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7 Tips for Building Your 'Anxiety Playlist'

We all have that one song that calms our nerves and makes us feel at peace. Sometimes, it can be an entire playlist. If you find yourself feeling extra anxious about anything, whether it’s that big meeting at work tomorrow or just knowing you have to talk on the phone later, it’s important to find an outlet for your increased stress.

Personally, I’ve found music can be a powerful tool to calm my anxiety. With my anxiety, I will ruminate on my thoughts for hours unless I do something to distract or refocus my mind, so music is a great way to accomplish that. Music not only absorbs my attention, it can help me explore emotions I haven’t even paid attention to yet. It aids in meditation and helps to prevent the mind from wandering too far.

Too busy for it? Music can be played anywhere – whether it’s in the car on the drive to work (that can be a stressful time) or for me, poppin’ in some headphones and listening to my playlist while walking my furry friend. There’s no excuse for having no time. Make time for your mental health.

If you don’t know where to start on this magical, musical journey, I’ll be your anxiety spirit guide.

1. Address your emotions.

When you blast a beat as you’re cleaning your room or listening to an upbeat song during your morning routine or workout, you’re using music therapeutically without even realizing it. When we are thoughtful about the selection of our music, we can build a powerful playlist that combats stress, anxiety and depression while increasing motivation and evoking positive emotions.

To start the process, let’s talk about those emotions. Sometimes this can be a hard step. Personally, I’m very self-aware of my own emotions or anxieties, but if you have trouble, don’t be hard on yourself. Do what makes you feel comfortable. If you can, ask yourself, What’s my current emotional state? Am I anxious, restless, or sad? How would I like to feel instead?

With those questions in mind, you can gradually bring yourself to whatever state of mind you would like to achieve through music. You just need music that’s cathartic for your current mood and slowly guides you to your desired emotional state.

2. Feel that familiar funk.

Start combing through your own collection of music, whether it be your CDs, records, iTunes or Spotify to discover what genre or specific songs really resonate with you. Personally, I’ve been building my “Anxiety Playlist” for a few weeks now and whenever I stumble across a song, whether it be on a Spotify pre-made playlist or just through exploring, I immediately add it to my collection of calm. My favorite feel good song on my playlist happens to be “Why Should I Worry” by Billy Joel and I’m not one bit ashamed of it. It’s one of my favorite Disney movies and it gives me a feeling of complete and total ease. Even hearing the words, “why should I worry” gives me such a instant shock of relief and reality that my life is pretty great. Why should I worry?

Memories, especially emotional ones, are stimulated by music and can transport us back in time instantly to the moment we experienced that specific song and how it made us feel. Be aware of how songs make you feel and label them as happy, energizing, disturbing, etc. Most importantly, trust yourself and how you believe songs make you feel. Only you know what emotions you have and how to combat them. It’s all about finding that trust within yourself. Place different songs into categories according to your common moods such as: depressed, tired, anxious, stressed and so on.

3. Enjoy the experience.

You know when your mom cranks up that country radio station and says, “you’ll love this song”? I love you mom, but I can guarantee you, I won’t. If it doesn’t seep into your bones and feed your soul, don’t bother adding it to your playlist. You know what you like – explore your options and match those songs to different moods.

4. Let it speak to your soul.

Music is the ultimate form of empathy. As humans, we’re constantly striving to be understood. This could explain why we enjoy music that’s relatable or speaks to our soul. Certain lyrics of songs can validate our feelings and even provide comfort when they are suited to our current mood. For example, when you’re listening to sad music it actually causes your brain to produce the same neurochemical that’s released when you cry. This chemical, prolactin, helps to elicit feelings of comfort, which means listening to a sad song when we feel depressed or down not only provides empathy, it’s causing our brains to begin the process of feeling better.

5. Match your mood.

Think about how you’re feeling right this minute. How fast are you moving? Is your heart racing? Are you feeling sluggish? Heavy? How fast are you breathing? There are many questions to consider before changing your mood with music. It can be easier to wade through matching your mood with the beat when you explore different musical elements such as tempo, volume and harmony. Keep these things in mind when you’re creating your playlist. A great example is volume. If you are overstimulated and feel like you need to turn the world off, find a song with soft lyrics and instruments.

6. Lose the lyrics.

While I personally always attach myself to specific lyrics, I’ve found songs without any lyrics have done wonders for my mood and anxiety. Lyrics leave a little less up to the imagination because someone else is telling the story. When lyrics are included in a song, our brain has to work even harder to process them. They could also stimulate more memories – good or bad. If you want to ease stress, allow your mind to wander without so intensely focusing on the music.

7. Trust your intuition.

If you’ve listened to a song and felt yourself on the edge of tears (“Come Fly With Me” by Frank Sinatra – every time) or motivated to run that extra distance, you know the power music can have on your emotions. When we make a conscious effort, music can provide emotional comfort during the struggles of anxiety. We have a serious knack for picking songs that soothe and heal just for us, without thinking too much about it. Trust the way you feel because it’s real and it’s valid.

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Thinkstock photo via Transfuchsian.

7 Tips for Building Your 'Anxiety Playlist'


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The Moment I Realized I Needed to Take Off My 'Happiness Mask'

Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

Smiles, laughter, friends, good grades. These are reasons why people are surprised when I say I have severe anxiety and depression. Because mental illness is easy to hide when you dedicate every ounce of energy to keeping your inner demons to yourself.

I tried for so long to conceal my anxiety and depression and honestly, I did a great job. My life consisted of me waking up, putting on my mask of happiness and struggling through every moment. I would spend time with friends, go to parties, dance and laugh. I was friendly and outgoing and on the outside, I looked healthy and happy. I smiled and laughed my way through debilitating panic attacks unfolding inside of me as I sat at a coffee shop with my friends. I shuddered and shook and pushed my way through the anxiety as I sat in my classroom. I got out of bed at 7:30 a.m. even though I was awake until 5 a.m. crying my eyes out.

The reality? Concealing the pain and torture going on in my head was making it significantly worse. The anxiety and depression reached a point that was unbearable. It was hard for me to eat. I got compliments about how great and skinny I looked and I would take them with a forced smile, knowing my silent cry for help was going unnoticed. I started skipping class, but professors didn’t pay any mind to it. They only acknowledged the fact I was going to fail for being absent so much.

I reached a breaking point at the beginning of the second semester of my sophomore year. I was rushing sororities which was a major time commitment and required more talking than you can imagine. I was doing well in the beginning, until one moment I was sitting in a chair talking to another girl and began to have a massive panic attack mid-sentence. I was struggling for air, my eyes were filling up with tears and I could barely get words out. The girl had a strange look on her face, but smiled through her confusion as I tried to laugh it off and pretend I was just choking on nothing. I left the house, walking quickly through crowds of girls with tears streaming down my face. I didn’t even care if people saw my weakness anymore, I needed help and it was time to come clean.

I’ve learned so much through my experience with mental illness, but one of the most important lessons I was taught is that it’s OK to be honest about your struggles. I thought faking it would make my symptoms disappear, but the exact opposite happened. As I became more vocal about my illnesses, I realized not all people are cruel and judgmental. Sure there will be many who don’t believe you or think that mental illness isn’t serious, but there are so many people going through something similar and who are there for you to lean on. When you come clean about your battles, it can bring a great sense of relief. You can get the proper help and accommodations you need. You can finally give yourself permission to begin healing the way you need to.

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Thinkstock photo via OGri.

This Is What My Anxiety Feels Like

My anxiety feels like:

… a thumping heart.

… a tight chest.

… short, quick breaths.

… a knot in my stomach.

… a swollen throat.

… heavy eyes.

… warm feet.

… a tingle in my ears.

… a pressure in my forehead.

… a fuzzy head.

… a tremble in my hands.

… and jelly in my legs.

I hear the blood rushing through my veins.

I feel the clammy sweat on my palms.

I smell the cold air.

I see everything.

I taste fear.

How do I look? Same as always.

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How an Orange Helped Me Through My Panic Attack

Mindfulness is about being aware of what we are doing and experiencing; it forces the brain to be in the here and now, which can help stop anxious thoughts in their tracks. It’s about learning how to control what you spend your attention on.

Not only did the orange give me tools to tackle my anxiety, it taught me a valuable lesson about making snap judgments and a little bit about my own humility.

About two years ago, I had hit a rough patch. I’d reached out to a wellness program run by my health insurance company and they sent me a packet about stress management. It had all the basic information: “Take a walk, call a friend, say no to new projects.” But tucked in the middle of the book was a paragraph about eating an orange. I thought the whole concept was ridiculous. How could eating an orange change my life? How would that help my anxiety? I laughed, I mocked and I shared with friends so they could mock it, too.

Then one night a few months later, I had a panic attack while home alone with and happened to have a bowl full of oranges in the kitchen. What happened next changed my life. I grabbed the little sheet of paper with the exercise on it, grabbed an orange and made myself comfortable.

Then I got to work. I took my time eating the orange. I made sure to focus all my thoughts and energy into that orange. I was completely present in the moment. I felt the orange, smelled the orange, looked at the orange. I thought about the rain and sun that it took to grow the orange. I thought about the long road the orange had to take to get to me. I thought about the scars on the peel of the orange, and when I took that first sweet juicy bite, I realized that none of those scars changed how absolutely divine the orange was on the inside.

Not only did it help with that particular panic attack, because it forced my brain to be present in the moment and didn’t allow me to worry about the “what ifs” and obsess over what had triggered the attack in the first place. It also changed my opinion of myself.

I have many scars myself: I used to self-harm. I have surgical scars. My broken nose is a lasting reminder of past trauma. My fragile skin shows scars from the silliest of things, too, and the emotional scar list could go on for miles.

I always used to think that these scars made me less valuable. After eating that orange, and realizing that the sweetest, most desirable part was on the inside and was still perfect despite the scars on its skin, I realized I still have value, too. My scars do not determine my worth, and neither do yours.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

A version of this post appeared on The Story of Spoonies.

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What Doctors Should Know About Patients With Anxiety

Thinking about going to the doctor creates stress and anxiety for me. Actually going can bring on a panic attack. This has given me a reputation with doctors and creates a problem for me. I am torn between disclosing my anxiety diagnosis and trying to hide it — albeit hard.

In my experience, doctors would trace every symptom back to my anxiety. It took me years to find a specialist who took me seriously and believed that some of my physical symptoms were not manifestations of anxiety, but had actual physical causes.

I am aware that anxiety can manifest itself in the body in unusual and surprising ways, but that shouldn’t be cause for neglect of the patient. Sometimes physical illnesses are overlooked and not treated properly because a patient has a mental illness.

Doctors need to understand the needs of the patient and accommodate them to the best of their ability. To help and to heal, not create more damage and harm. Sometimes they might need a reminder.

If you are a doctor who has a patient with anxiety or any other mental health condition, please consider the following:

Understand we are people. We need a little extra kindness and compassion.We might already be nervous and anxious about being there. Try to do whatever you can to create a relaxing environment.

Listen to what we have to say. If you don’t take us seriously or brush us off, that can make us feel even more isolated and alone, and feel that we may never find someone who understands us. All we want is relief. If I tell you my stomach is constantly bothering me, order a CT scan or an actual test. Don’t tell me to take more anxiety meds and try to relax. Your job is to explore all possibilities. And while anxiety might be one of them, it is not all of them.

Reassure us that you heard us and understand us. Explain things to us in a way we can easily understand, and let us participate in our treatment. You may know medicine, but we know our bodies.

Understand that what you write down in our chart will follow us to other specialists and doctors, and that what you write about us might be what other doctors will believe, too. This might prevent us from getting the care that we really need.

The bottom line is that people with anxiety can get sick in their bodies. People with mental illnesses can get physically sick. We need proper care. We deserve it.

A special thank you to the few, but great doctors out there who have taken me seriously and explored all the options.

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Just Because I'm 'Better' Doesn't Mean I Don't Still Have Anxiety Symptoms

My anxiety was a long, unwavering journey.

It wasn’t just me who was affected by it, everyone in my life felt its impact in various ways. Whether it was helping me through an attack or seeing me struggling to breathe when out shopping or in class or just seeing me crying as I walk by.

It’s been difficult. I have tried everything I could do to get better and it’s worked, but I still continue to regularly feel symptoms of my mental illness. Now I just know how to manage them.

Every day has become different. I can’t predict what it’ll entail. When I was at my worst, each day was a routine. Somehow I had associated certain places or things with having attacks, so whenever I approached them, they became triggers. This became a struggle when I had to face them each day or I wouldn’t pass my exams or I wouldn’t have a social life. I’d have ended up isolated.

Thankfully, I realized it was due to perspective and the things I deemed “scary,” actually weren’t. I could face them. In fact, I did face them and I got better. Or for starters, the panic attacks lessened. I used to have at least a dozen attacks every single day. Now, I don’t even know when the last one I had was. My days are no longer encompassed by worry of when a panic attack will come. If I have one, I have one and that’s OK. I will survive it and it won’t make me relapse.

Inevitably, I still get the symptoms of anxiety. Just because I’m “better,” doesn’t mean it’ll leave me. Currently, I can feel nauseous due to the slightest stressors and fatigue often consumes me. I still get the mental aspects as well, but these days, it is easier for me to shut the omnipotent thoughts away. I know how to manage my illness and after such a long journey, I finally feel like I can overcome what it derailed of my life. I know my anxiety. I know I am stronger than it.

Mental illness isn’t a choice. But I realized I needed to make the right choices for me so I could get better.

No matter if I have good days or bad days, I will be OK.

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Thinkstock photo via itskatjas.

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