How Music Can Heal Anxiety

December 03, 2021

By Sage Christensen

Sage spent her earliest years acting in television and film and modeling for Wilhelmina Kids and Teens where she had ongoing contracts with Jessica Simpson kids and Teens and was featured on many Discover network shows. She has helped to develop Musicat and the Muses into a cool media brand that focuses on the healing and transformational Powers of music and the arts.

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John Persampiere, PH.D is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who has been practicing in the Baltimore, DC area for over 14 years. Dr. Persampiere has extensive experience in treating depression, anxiety, and other behavioral issues. He works closely with children, adolescents, adults, families, and couples with a wide range of mental health and family relationship concerns. 

Musicat is an animation-based media outlet that focuses on the love, appreciation, and education of live music and the arts and also explores how music and the arts can not only empower us as individuals but also help heal our minds, bodies, and souls.

Today, we are going to talk to Dr. Persampiere about anxiety and how music and the arts can potentially help adolescents deal with anxiety related to school, sports, and personal relationships.

SAGE: Dr. Persampiere, as a teenager in the midst of a somewhat confusing and tumultuous era, I have noticed a lot of anxiety these days, not only within myself, but within many of my friends. I feel sometimes people get anxious but don’t even recognize their symptoms. Can you tell me about some behaviors or symptoms resulting from anxiety that we may not be aware of?
DR. PERSAMPIERE: Great question! Anxiety is a normal part of life and we all experience anxiety from time to. In fact, some anxiety can be helpful because it helps us prepare for different demands in our life. For example, a little bit of anxiety before an exam can help motivate us to study or some anxiety about driving can help us be alert and safe when operating a vehicle. However, anxiety can become problematic if it is too frequent and intense or interferes with the quality of our lives. There may be a problem if we find ourselves constantly worrying, unable to sleep, or able to enjoy being around others because of too much nervousness or anxiety.

SAGE: For me, I started to notice that every time I would take a test in high school, I would get a nosebleed. I didn’t think I was anxious, but as these nosebleeds became more regular, I realized they may be linked to test-taking fears, like doing poorly or forgetting the material. Can you tell me a little about the physiological signs of anxiety and how someone can help themselves relax before a test, game, or performance?
DR. PERSAMPIERE: Another great question. We all have a strong “mind-body” connection, meaning that worry and stress can have a profound impact on our physical well-being. It is important to think about what you can do ahead of time to decrease the likelihood your body and mind will be stressed before an exam. Simple things have a profound impact on how we cope with stress.

For example, making sure you get at least 8 hours of sleep each night, eating healthy, regular exercise, and minimizing “screen time” can help your body and mind be calmer in general and particularly before stressful events. Right before an exam, it is helpful to expect to be anxious; however, instead of trying to answer every scary “What if?” question in your mind, remind yourself, “This is my body and mind preparing for a challenge. I can ride the wave of this anxiety.” Sometimes doing less is more effective. Finally, some calming exercises can be helpful such as diaphragmatic or deep breathing, mindfulness, or guided imagery. A great free app to learn and practice these skills is called Mindshift and can be found here https://www.anxietycana da.com/resources/mindshift-cbt/

If you have any intense physical symptoms like nose bleeds or severe pain, it is always important to check with your regular doctor first to make sure it is not something else that needs to be treated by a medical professional.

SAGE: Pressure is a word I feel really encompasses teenage years. Balancing friendships, endless activities and responsibilities can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. In general, can you offer your advice on specific self therapies that may take some of the physical manifestations of the pressure away?
DR. PERSAMPIERE: I think it is important to first evaluate whether what you are doing is realistic. You have to give yourself permission to let go of some demands if you are spread too thin or are high-achieving, but not always at the expense of your physical and mental health. I know you can’t take away things like homework or certain activities. However, it is OK to cut back on some activities if you are over-scheduled and talk to your parents about whether or not all of your current activities are truly essential to your goals.

I think it is important to have a hobby that you can really enjoy and be present-focused with. Present-focused means you are engaged with an activity without being focused on something else because you enjoy the activity so much. For some, playing a musical instrument or painting can be very therapeutic and de-stressing for many. Having an activity each day that builds a sense of mastery and pleasure is important.

We live in a very demanding culture and you have to be mindful not to fall into a perfectionistic trap. You cannot do and be perfect at everything and learning to expect inevitable setbacks is important. It is also helpful to try to challenge “black and white thinking.” An example of black and white or “all or nothing” is when you think that if you can’t do everything you hope to do, you’re a failure. We are all doing the best we can, and setbacks are inevitable. No one is perfect even though we perceive others to be.

SAGE: I notice listening to music really helps me on long car rides when I feel a little car sick. I actually wrote an essay on how music can help heal us in many different stages of life and illness. Can you tell me what specifically about music or art therapy helps us physiologically?
DR. PERSAMPIERE: Music can have a very soothing impact on our emotional and physical state and there is science to back up this claim! Music can create emotions that increase dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a specific neurotransmitter in our brain that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Music can be very calming and therapeutic. Further, creating music is an exceptional activity that can lead us to be more mindful and present-focused. Finally, music is a great way to connect with people socially, and social connectedness is a key to our mental health.

SAGE: Many of us love our parents very much but I feel many parents don’t realize the pressures they can put on us. What is your best advice if you are feeling extremely anxious and overwhelmed with one of your parents?
DR. PERSAMPIERE: Parents have a lot of influence over the course of our lives, and sometimes we can experience intense pressure from their demands. Often, parents come from a place of love and want to push us to be our best selves but aren’t always perfect at understanding when we are having difficulty. Every parent-child relationship is different, and not all parents respond the same way to feedback. I think it is helpful to express your specific feelings about the pressure to your parents and ask if you can come up with solutions together to decrease stress. Sometimes just letting them know you feel like you are going to explode from stress can be helpful, though not all parents validate these feelings.

If you are feeling unheard, it is helpful to talk to a trusted professional like a guidance counselor at school to see if you can get help articulating your concerns to your parents. Sometimes parents have great intentions but need a little more perspective as to why you are feeling pressure

It is important to realize you are never alone. If a teenager ever feels hopeless and things can’t get better, it is important to try to articulate these feelings to a trusted adult as there are always options for things to get better such as therapy to help improve parent-child communication. When we are in the midst of stress, we can feel hopeless and forget that all emotions are temporary. Teens can also call the 24/7 Suicide Prevention Hotline if things ever get seriously overwhelming at (800)-273-8255.

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