“Working in the music industry might indeed be making musicians sick,” reports a survey conducted by the University of Westminster.
You read it correctly, working in the music industry might make you three times more likely to “suffer from depression than the general public” and that’s why you need to stay aware of this.
Anxiety is a problem that all musicians go through eventually throughout their career and not dealing with it can take you to serious health problems that could lead you to depression. Needless to say, if eventually you go through a depression, this can dismantle your creativity and productivity, and, consequently, your goals.
Therefore, you need to stay on the lookout for it and prevent yourself from getting there. If you’re already there, then I’ll cover how you can get out of it as well. Here’s what we’re covering today:
- What Is, and Why Do You Have Anxiety as Musicians?
- How Can Anxiety Affect You as a Musician?
- How Can You Deal With It?
- The Good Side of Anxiety
P.S. I’ve been there myself a couple times, and it doesn’t feel nice at all. As a person who needs to talk my way out of it, I’m open if you want to talk about. Message me here if you need someone to talk to.
Let’s dive right in!
What Is, and Why Do You Have Anxiety as Musicians?
Anxiety is a natural human emotion that relates to anticipation of something unpleasant or harmful to ourselves of any sort: social, financial, mental, etc.
When we feel anxious, we activate our “Fight-or-flight” response, which is our body preparing ourselves for a possible negative/unpleasant situation that we might need extra resources to “fight” or “fly” to survive. When this happens, our body goes through a series of changes due to the release of adrenaline into our bloodstream, which generates a series of consequences to our minds.
Some of these are common causes for anxiety spikes among musicians:
- Not getting your track signed to the label you want;
- Inability to achieve the results we expected;
- Powerlessness towards improving the quality of your tracks;
- Inability to generate enough income to pay your bills;
- Hopelessness towards your genre;
- Feeling of wasted time due to recent failures;
In addition to these, we also have a bunch of other reasons that could make us anxious which are non-music specific, like breaking up with your girlfriend/boyfriend, fighting with your parents, illnesses, traumatic experiences, etc.
To sum them up, all of these are events where some kind of anticipation over not meeting a deadline, not paying the bills, not achieving the results you expected, etc. Normally, we tend to start overthinking them, which will lead you to more anxiety, which will make you overthink it even more, creating a vicious cycle. Whenever you realize what you’re going through, it may be too late for you to get back at your feet by yourself and you may need some extra help and effort.
Au/ra describes anxiety in her song “Panic Room” as the following:
Hell raising, hair raising
I’m ready for the worst
So frightening, face whitening
Fear that you can’t reverse
My phone has no signal
It’s making my skin crawl
The silence is so loud
The lights spark and flicker
With monsters much bigger
Than I can control now
Welcome to the panic room
Where all your darkest fears are gonna
Come for you, come for you (…)Au/ra – Panic Room
And we’ve all lived it and we know that it feels exactly like this.
How Can Anxiety Affect You as a Musician?
- Anxiety makes your brain with an overwhelming amount of stress hormones, which lead you to sharpen your senses and stay ready for a stressful situation;
- Anxiety makes you hyperactive to threats to the point where non threatening situations could all be seen as false alarms, which could re-trigger more anxiety;
- Anxiety weakens your ability to solve hard problems. In other words, your ability to concentrate & focus is lowered, along with your capability to process information, which would lower your creativity;
- Anxiety diminishes your ability to store information, diminishing your ability to create new synapses, which lead you to being less creative;
To sum it up, anxiety diminishes your ability to concentrate, your ability to be creative, your ability to think properly, while enhancing your alarm systems of your brain, which could lead to even more anxiety.
In other words, anxiety is the worst enemy you have to face as a music producer since it will harm your ability to make what you’re most happy with. It could start by making you unmotivated and unsatisfied with your work, which later even thinking about creating music could become a burden to yourself.
How Can You Deal With It?
Step #1 – Accept It
“The first noble truth of the Buddha is that when we feel suffering, it doesn’t mean that something is wrong. What a relief. Finally somebody told the truth. Suffering is part of life, and we don’t have to feel it’s happening because we personally made the wrong move. In reality, however, when we feel suffering, we think that something is wrong. As long as we’re addicted to hope, we feel that we can tone our experience down or liven it up or change it somehow, and we continue to suffer a lot.”Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
First, and before anything, anxiety will appear in your life because that’s simply how we’re wired. And that’s ok, which is our step #1. Accept your anxiety as part of you and don’t try to reject it.
When I say to you “don’t think about a pink elephant!”, what instantaneously comes to your mind? A Pink Elephant.
When you reject anxiety and say “I have to stop being anxious”, “I don’t like this anxious side of me”, what will come to your mind? Anxiety. And rejecting it and not succeeding might make you even more anxious.
Turns out, the best way to let something go is to recognize and accept it as your current situation. There’s nothing wrong with having anxious moments so embrace the moment and try to take the most out of it.
In the spirit that every situation will make you grow, worst-case scenario, you’ll discover an anxious part of you that you probably won’t like, which can be a reminder to where you can go if you live an anxious life.
“Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape — all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.”Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
Step #2 – Don’t Act Now. Just Analyze the Moment
What is wrong right now? Are you in physical pain or danger? Or is it just mental pain? If it’s mental pain that you’re having, it most likely isn’t even real.
And if it’s not real, why is it there? Who’s putting it there? What got it over there? What was the trigger of this mental spiral you have gone through? Watch your thoughts, learn from them, but don’t act on anything.
Acting on a clouded mind is the same thing as trying to drive a car on ice… you can end up doing something you may regret later. Therefore, before the cloud goes away, stay where you are, don’t act, just observe. It won’t be easy, but it will be better than acting and regretting it later.
One recommendation that I have to you is to talk to your closest friends about it. Talking to someone about your situation does not expose any weaknesses or put you in danger of losing a friend. On the contrary, it can bring you together and be helpful to you to find alternatives to your current situation.
Step #3 – Seek Professional Help
“Only crazy people go to therapists” is a common thought about mental therapy. Questions:
- Does only the weak seek personal trainers?
- Did Michael Phelps develop his abilities on his own?
Therapists are not only for crazy people! Think about a therapy session as feedback to your life. The same way you ask your fellow producer friends for feedback on your tracks because you want a second opinion to make sure your track is good or heading a good path, your therapist will give feedback on your life.
Going to therapy can be seen as a weakness to you, but is it really? I’m sure the people around will be happy that you’re looking to improve your mental condition, and if someone ever says to you that going to therapy is for weaks and, therefore, you’re weak because of that, I’m sure this person is not your friend.
Step #4 – Reframe It
What if Anxiety wasn’t a bad thing? What if anxiety was life pointing at you that something is worth/not worth pursuing?
It’s not necessarily anxiety that is the problem, but the way you’re reacting to it. If you’re planning a big move in your life, you can get anxious. If you want to release a track that you’ve been working for a long time, you can get anxious.
If you’re doing something that matters, you can get anxious because you want it to work out. The underlying thought in this anxiety, however, is that you don’t want to fail, and this anticipation of not knowing rather it will fail or not is what is worrying you.
Therefore, the anxiety you get is born at the roots of a deeper fear of failure, which you’ll always have, but how can you diminish this? If you’re not afraid of failure, you can get excited and motivated, but you won’t get anxious. I’m sure a little bit will still be there, but you’ll look for ways to reframe this feeling. You can read more about this in this post about mindset and in this post about failure.
Anxiety can, then, become the fire that drives you not to fail. As I’ve always said to myself, and as Quddus says in the video, if you don’t feel it, question yourself whether you should be doing that.
Step #5 – Create Your Guard Rails
Right after you’ve regained self-control and established your new normal, you need to create your guard rails so this doesn’t happen again. Anticipating this to your future self, anxiety will happen to you again, but in a different way, which would require you to create new defenses against it.
Therefore, after going through an anxious moment, ask yourself the following question: How can I prevent this if it hits me again?
- If you’ve gone through a writer’s block period and writer’s block made you feel anxious because you weren’t able to create new music, what if you started doing weekly sessions where you’d have to come up with 2 ideas at least? That’s 104 ideas per year. If 10% become a song, that’s 10 songs per year!
- If you were anxious because you’re not achieving the mixing results you want and you don’t know how to move on with your production, what if you hired someone to guide you through an ideal mixing process? What if you had your tracks mixed and mastered for you?
- If you were anxious because you don’t have time to produce because work is taking so much time, what if you looked for a different job that allowed you to work with music and earn money in your 9-5? What if you produced during your commute?
- If you’re afraid you won’t be able to meet a deadline and this is making you anxious, what if you don’t deliver on time? Is there anyway for you to outsource the work? If mixing, for example, takes you 10 days and you only have 2, why don’t you hire someone to do it for you?
Ultimately, for every situation you’re facing in music, I’m sure there’s something you can do that will make your life less anxious. And if you’re not being able to find it yourself, that’s what a therapist or a coach are for: expanding your horizons and making you see possibilities you’ve not imagined.
The goal, though, is to find a way to prevent you from going again to an anxious state of mind. If that happens, that’s what these fences are for and you must have them prepared once you face an anxious moment.
The Good Side of Anxiety
So far, we’ve listed a couple elements that are bad about anxiety. But underlying these bad things are some core positives to your life:
- Anxiety helps you understand what matters to you;
- Anxiety can help you find balance in your life;
- Anxiety can power you up if you use it properly.
These are not the only benefits of anxiety, but certainly some that can be mentioned.
As said, you normally get anxious about things that matter to you. If you’re releasing a track and you don’t really care about the result, question yourself whether you should be releasing that track, anyway. To go even further, question whether you should be producing in a genre that doesn’t excite you. In the end, you’ll be able to redirect yourself towards something that you see a bigger end value.
Anxiety can help you find balance in your life since anxiety itself is a clue that something is out of balance. AS we’ve seen before, anxiety is an answer from your body to you that something is out of order and that needs to be changed.
Whether it’s the way you react to moments that require more balance or where you’ve gone in an anxious moment, only by facing it that you’ll be able to discover it and understand that you need to correct something in your life. In addition, not acting would be a harmful action towards your future self.
Lastly, anxiety can power you up in the pursuit of your goals. If you’re capable of redirecting the thoughts that fuel this anxiety to your favor, this energy will drive you to take action towards what you want. In addition to clearly knowing what matters, you’ll also have a bigger drive because anxiety will show you that you’re on the right path.
Everyone feels the pressure of anxiety, what matters the most is how you react to it.
(you can listen to the post in this audio below)
Now It’s Your Turn!
As an anxious society, I’m no stranger to anxiety peaks in my life, and this is how I’ve shaped my life to deal with these moments.
Now I’d like to hear what you have to say:
What is your secret formula to dealing with anxiety?
Let me know in the comments below!