Anxiety, Music and Gears

4th February 2016

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I’ve been meaning to start my anxiety blog for a while now, so I’ll commence the proceedings by reporting on tonight’s observations: I have spent this evening in the company of some fellow Salford locals in the Crescent pub off of Chapel Street, Manchester. Every Thursday Jerry – the manager – hosts an ‘open mic’ night for people to perform music, comedy, poetry and the like. The evening was full of some great acts, with instruments such as the Spanish guitar and the Gambian Kora being played (this is an instrument that I am learning), as well as some local poetry being well performed.

Whilst engaging with the music, I also noticed the constant flow of cars passing by through the front windows. The Crescent pub overlooks a busy main road (Chapel Street) where traffic flows for people who wish to exit Manchester and head West.

What struck me during this very enjoyable evening was something of time context and perception. With anxiety, our sense of time and space is often ‘warped’ – this is why so many people become overwhelmed when they are in a busy place, or surrounded my frantic movement, or find it too much to exert themselves physically. It’s the reason why I have many clients visiting me to help them with motorway or airport anxiety – time and movement around them feels faster, more volatile and harder to process. This can be visualised by imagining experiencing a panic attack on a motorway.

Listening to the wonderful music, in the small room in the pub, gave me a sense of feeling encapsulated. Perhaps this is the same for people who seem confined to their homes. The sense of an understandable concept of space and time is prevelant when we’re confined to the walls of our own home and our lives become somewhat normalised. Much like activities within the home, the events of this evening could be absorbed ‘in the moment’, because I felt safe and my concept of space and time was at a constant.

The traffic outside however reminded me of how life moves at different speeds. Usually, a lot of my clients who have retired find it difficult to adjust to a slower speed that contrasts to that of their previous, busy lives. Living a life in 5th gear, then suddenly having to adjust to 1st gear, can be a daunting task for people. I have found that adjusting to different speeds in life can cause anxiety in many people.

Attending the Crescent open mic night reminded me – as a counsellor of anxiety – that I must convey the importance of living and enjoying life at different speeds. I could enjoy being in 1st gear and appreciate the artistic talent on show, whilst at the same time realising that there are periods in life where we need to be like the traffic outside; we need to be moving, living in a required state of ignorance and doing what is necessary to reach another destination. If both can be achieved,  without forethought, then it is likely that you’re not an anxious person.

Time, and the conceptualisation of that time, need to be understood when we are anxious. A previous version of myself would have perhaps wanted to rush home and continue my ‘to-do’ list, or resume activities in 5th gear in order to partake in something that matches how I feel. What the open mic night reminded me of is that you must learn to operate in different gears in order to fully tame anxiety. Take some time out, enjoy a moment that runs at an alternate, slower speed to what you’re used to, then reflect on this. For me, moments like this evening are essential to leading a healthy life (minus the pints of real ale that I consumed!)

In the future I will endeavour to study the links between anxiety and music in more depth. For now though it can remain a fleeting thought for when I sit back and relax!