5 Tom Petty Songs That Calm My Anxiety

When legendary musician Tom Petty unexpectedly died, the music community and fans alike were understandably shaken by the tragic loss of someone whose voice was an integral part of our cultural landscape. My own reaction was no less intense. For  many of us struggling with anxiety and depression, music is a piece of our calming toolkit — it’s something that we use to clear our head, to refocus our thoughts, and often, to feel less alone. As a sufferer of several debilitating anxiety disorders, Tom Petty’s music and lyrics have settled my mind many times. Here are five of the late artist’s songs I recommend to those battling anxiety:

1. “Wildflowers” from “Wildflowers”

This is a gentle, moving song that helps quiet my mind in the midst of an anxiety attack. The imagery is deeply soothing and the lyrics themselves are comforting, as well as confidence-boosting. “You deserve the deepest of cover. You belong in that home by and by. You belong among the wildflowers. You belong somewhere close to me, far away from your trouble and worry. You belong somewhere you feel free.”

2. “American Girl” from “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers”

My anxiety hit its peak when I became a teenager. It seemed that with each year I got older, my anxiety disorders grew stronger and stronger. “American Girl” was a song that got me through a deep depression I experienced as a result of the changes I was going through. I remember writing one of the lyrics on my notebook: “God, it’s so painful when something that is so close is still so far out of reach.” In the context of the song, the lyric was referring to a relationship, but, for me, it was referring to the future I so desperately wished I could have.

3. “Learning to Fly” from “Into the Great Wide Open”

“Well, the good old days may not return,” Petty sings. “The rocks might melt and the sea may burn. I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings. Coming down is the hardest thing.” I think those words would strike the heart of anyone struggling with a mental illness.

4. “Free Fallin’” from “Full Moon Fever”

“Free Fallin’” is another relationship-themed song I’ve always related to on a different level. When Petty croons, “I wanna glide down over Mulholland. I want to write her name in the sky. I want to free fall out into nothing. I want to leave this world for awhile,” I really, really feel it in relation to my mental health, and my desire to just escape my mind for a little while.

5. “Runnin’ Down a Dream” from “Full Moon Fever”

I feel like this song, albeit presumably unintentionally, encapsulates the experience of someone with mental illness. “I felt so good, like anything was possible. I hit cruise control and rubbed my eyes. The last three days, the rain was unstoppable. It was always cold, no sunshine.” Our battles with anxiety, depression and mood disorders are like a road trip. It’s a journey with ups and downs. Petty continues, “I rolled on as the sky grew dark. I put the pedal down to make some time. There’s something good waiting down this road. I’m picking up whatever’s mine.” Ultimately, just as in the song, we keep on driving — we keep on running down a dream.

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Photo via Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Facebook page

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