Anxiety Talk: Anti-Anxiety Playlist, Vol. 1

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve never been a morning person. Back when I was working 9-5 jobs, my anxiety made them downright terrible. I’d wake up with a 50 lb weight in my gut, unable to eat. On bad days, I’d have to fight back tears during my commute. You’d think I was going to the gallows.

Low and behold, I still have my head. While it’s not nearly as bad as it was, part of having anxiety is living with that kind of fear on a day to day basis. So yeah, I still have bad mornings sometimes.

Music has always helped. Especially during the drive to work. I usually like something that has a good beat or is generally motivational. Ideally both. When you’re scared to greet the day, that’s what you need. Something to get your blood pumping, inspire confidence, and remind you the world isn’t so bad after all.

What follows are five songs that have worked well for me during bad mornings, whether they happened a day or a decade ago. They sit on my iPod in a playlist called “Anti-Anxiety.” When the fear has taken hold, these songs have helped me find the courage to put one foot in front of the other and keep going.

I don’t want to say, “I hope they work for you too!” or anything, because everyone’s mind is different. Consider it a nudge toward making music a part of your daily coping routine, if it isn’t already.

My reference point for these songs is going to be YouTube. But as you might imagine, YouTube is finicky with copywritten material. So I invite you to click the link and check the videos out for yourself. On the plus side, chances are you’ll know the majority of these…

1. Sara Bareilles – “Brave”

Obvious? Yes. A bit on the nose? Yes. But it’s still a great song.

“Brave” has been described as a civil rights anthem. Bareilles has said the inspiration for it came from seeing a close friend struggle to come out. But the song is really about being comfortable in your own skin, and having the courage to be who you really are.

In reading about “Brave,” I saw it referred to as a “power ballad.” As I’m not nearly as fluent in music as I am in other things, I’d never heard that term before. But it’s apt as hell. “Brave” acknowledges that you feel weak, while reminding you that you’re strong. Not a bad message to start the day with.

2. The Score – “Unstoppable”

This is my most recent addition to the playlist. You might remember it if you saw Power Rangers. There’ve been days where I’ve repeated “Unstoppable” a multiple times on the way into work.

The first line of the chorus is, “We can be heroes!” That’s what put it over the top for me. Obviously I’m a big superhero nut, so it works on that level. But one of the reasons so many of us love superheroes so much is because they can stay strong and brave while facing the unimaginable. Typically, people with anxiety aren’t facing the unimaginable. But it feels like we are. So we need to be reminded that we too can be strong and brave. We can be our own superheroes, despite what our mind tells us.

3. Johnny Cash – “I Won’t Back Down”

Yes, I know it’s a Tom Petty song. Maybe my favorite Tom Petty song. But Johnny gives it a more intimate touch that somehow hits home for me. Something about a man, his voice, and a guitar.

The original song came out in 1989. I remember rooting through some of my dad’s CDs, finding a Greatest Hits album for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I wish I’d found it sooner. I imagine it would have helped me push through some tough times.

4. Florence and the Machine – “Shake It Out”

I recently heard “Shake It Out” for the first time in awhile. It actually gave me goosebumps. Specifically, at the lyrics: “And it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back. So shake him off.” Damn, that’s beautiful.

“Shake It Out” is essentially about letting go of your baggage and leaving the past behind you. I’ve always been hesitant to say my anxiety has cost me certain things. Jobs, money, opportunities, things like that. Anxiety itself doesn’t force you to do anything. In the end, you make the decisions. Some people have issues separating those two things. But almost everyone has something in their past they’d change if given the chance. I’ve spent my fair share of time ruminating on all of that great stuff. “Shake It Out” asks us to let all of that go. I use it in the context of shaking off any lingering fear from the previous day, and simply living in the present.

5. Weezer – “Pork and Beans”

“Pork and Beans” is really about Weezer maintaining their identity amidst pressure to make more commercialized music. But it’s also about having the audacity and the courage to be yourself. It’s delightfully defiant. “I’mma do the things that I want to do. I ain’t got a thing to prove to you.”

That’s often a tough concept for someone with anxiety to put into practice, as the way we feel is so often a direct result of others. But it’s a good thing to hear when you feel that kind of self consciousness creeping up on you.

There bridge in this song is simply, “But I don’t care! I don’t care! I don’t care!” etc. Sometimes I’ll catch myself singing that quietly if I’ve got a nagging or rising fear I can’t get rid of.

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Chester Bennington, and Thoughts on Suicide

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m not really a “music guy.” I like music, and it’s a part of my daily life. But I can’t talk about it or analyze it the way a lot of other creative people do. It’s a language I don’t know how to speak.

Come to think of it, I don’t have a lot of favorite bands. Lifehouse really spoke to me when I was in high school. I was an angsty, nervous, emotional kid. (Come to think of it, I’m an angsty, nervous, emotional adult too.) So I didn’t have a lot of friends. Their vulnerable and honest lyrics were always a comfort and an inspiration to me.

On the other end of the spectrum was Linkin Park. There was a comforting and inspirational dimension to their music. But I listened to them when I felt anger, bitterness, and isolation. I don’t really relate to a lot of music. But I related to what I heard from them. These guys didn’t know me. But they knew something about what I was feeling. While I don’t consider myself a huge Linkin Park fan, I’ve followed them over the years. If I had to list my favorite bands, they’d be one of the first on the list.

The news that Linkin Park’s lead singer, Chester Bennington, apparently committed suicide by hanging this week hit me in a really strange way. It’s a tragedy, of course. Suicide usually is. But there’s another, more personal dimension to it.

There’s no fluid transition into this next statement. So I’m just going to go for it.

I’ve thought about suicide over the years. Quite a bit, to be honest.

I’ve never considered myself suicidal, per se. I’ve not once attempted to kill myself. I’ve also never been a cutter, or someone who self-inflicts. But the thought, the possibility, even the temptation, has maintained a place in my consciousness since I was in high school. It’s wrapped up in my anxiety, my depression, and all that fun stuff. 

Linkin Park was part of the soundtrack of my young life when I was first thinking about suicide. And now one of the voices of Linkin Park has committed suicide. So for me there’s a sad, vile, ugly irony in the whole thing.

I feel a little bit like I felt when Robin Williams killed himself a few years ago. One of the creative forces I admired growing up was fighting some of the same demons I’ve fought. And he…succumbed? That feels like an insensitive word to use. But it’s the only one that comes to mind.

The obvious question to ask is, why? Why would someone who’s had so much success and touched so many lives want to kill himself? I don’t have the answer. But as I was mulling this over today it occurred to me that a suicide generally only makes sense to the victim. It’s something the person rationalizes. What they’re feeling, be it physically or emotionally, has taken such a toll that suicide feels like a viable option. No one understands what would drive you to do something so terrible. But they can’t understand. They may love you. But they can never see the world through your eyes. They can’t know what you face on a day to day basis.

In my experience, thinking about suicide is like staring into a dark abyss. It’s total blackness. You have no idea what’s in there. But whatever it is, it’s got to be better than this. That void can be so tempting when you’re in that kind of pain…

I don’t look down on Bennington, or anyone else who has made the choice he made. I feel for them. I mourn them. It’s so incredibly tragic to believe that’s the only way out. What’s more, they leave their loved ones with their own terrible pain.

When I think about the things that have kept me away from that abyss over the years, that’s something I keep coming back to. My loved ones. My wife. My parents. My family. The people I’ve been friends with over the years. I couldn’t do that to them. I couldn’t leave them to bear that burden.

If you’re someone who’s staring into that abyss now, know that there are people in this world who love you and need you. I know it hurts. It’s agonizing. And at times it’s hopeless. But there is always another way. You deserve love, happiness, friendship, and all the wonders life has to offer. Please don’t rob the world of your gifts.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors

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