How To Use Music To Calm Down When Fear & Anxiety Hit

Music is a powerful tool for tapping into your emotions.

How To Use Music To Calm Down When Fear & Anxiety Hit getty

Relax to music. Soundtrack your workout. Build a playlist around a mood. All good.

How are they working for you? For your family and friends? Want some new ideas to help engage deeply with the best self-care tool of the last few-thousand years?

Here's how to use music to relieve fear and anxiety.

RELATED: 30 Best Mood-Booster Spotify Playlists

Courage is an important result of relief from fear and anxiety, and you'll get there, too.


How does using music in a novel way connect to your fear? And how can you choose the “right” music? Courage is a welcome opportunity and a natural result of the work you’ve done with fear and anxiety.

In our era, the old adage “sex sells” is rapidly succumbing to a new one: “Fear sells.” The media get this and offer lots of opportunities for you to engage with fear — and with advertisers paying for its promotion.

How does anyone respond to that with power? Ignore it? Stiff-upper-lip it?

Courage in the face of fear is different from ignoring fear. Music can boost your courage, sure, but first, you need to dig into what scares you to release the aspects of fear that shackle and immobilize you. Only then can you be ready to engage your courage.


Don’t get all caught up in mindset-based thinking, please. Trying to think your way out of an unwanted emotion is psychological suicide.

Here are three steps to use music to calm down when fear and anxiety hits.

1. Find your "fear" song.

From your shortlist of music you love most, choose the one song that’s scariest. Don’t have a scary song? Movies are a good place to search for scary music; the shower scene music from Psycho is a good one.

Classical music can free you in some ways from the need to depend on words to understand the mood in the music. Spotify also has some offerings, such as the "Music of Fear" playlist.

2. Feel your emotions fully.


With the one song you’ve chosen for fear, put on some headphones, set your music player to “repeat one,” find a comfortable, safe place to listen, and just be with that music in your ears for as long as it takes.

Get good and scared — you’re safe and fear is just an emotion you’re allowing right now. Let all the stuff that frightens you appear in your mind, notice it, and invite the next scary thing to come up.

Do this until your mind stops offering scary stuff, or you just get tired.

The evidence behind connecting emotion to music is that the emotions process through you more quickly. Often, the processing itself can be energizing, even when the emotions are ones you don’t like.


If science isn’t your thing, rely on your own self-evident experience to determine what works for you.

You may feel very wrung out after your first listening session, that’s to be expected. Keep using the song that does it best for you.

With practice, you will build new neural pathways that become durable, built-in conduits for reliably relieving fear. Like ike physical exercise, repetition will strengthen your resilience.

3. Understand what music impacts varying emotions.

Anxiety is a more specific form of fear: Distress and worry about the future, the opposite of joyous anticipation. The opportunity here is to be even more specific with the music you use — music that helps focus and relieve the fear of what could happen.


What music supports your anxiety-free forward focus by facing anxiety head-on?

As with fear, it takes courage to face anxiety, especially when the future seems empty of joyous anticipation. But for right now, the objective is simple: relief. Courage will come next.

So, in another way, music for anxiety is also music that specifically anticipates courage. It’s music that transforms the unwanted aspects of one feeling you don’t like (anxiety) into other aspects you do want (anticipation).

RELATED: 5 Good Podcasts For Women — Led By Women — To Empower You During Coronavirus Quarantine

That’s so important to understand! Those fear-based traits in anxiety can become powerful fuel for anticipation. All you need is a kind of catalytic converter to transform them. Music does that.


So, what’s your song for anxiety?

As with fear, you only need one. Your one song may be different from anyone else’s and that’s OK. Unlike your song for present in-the-moment fear, your anxiety song needs to connect you with future fear — worry about some unwanted, terrifying unknown possibility.

Many people find that Carl Orff’s O Fortuna from Carmina Burana is powerful for anxiety. When you hear it, you may recognize it — it has been used widely for this reason.

Scary movies are always a useful place to start hunting for anxiety music.

If you are a fan of American Horror Story, for example, you’ll already be familiar with its expert use of anxiety-producing music, not just in the theme, but also as a subliminal lead-up to the many dramatic, scary moments that make AHS emotionally compelling.


You may want to try several different songs to see how they work on you.

You may find that they have more than one kind of effect. Adrenaline-based feelings, such as terror and fear, can easily be led by visual or musical imagery.

As you listen, notice how the music works both for anxiety and a kind of dark anticipation. At many times during his music, I feel terrified expectation and a desire to just get it over with! That’s the perfect kind of response you want for the anxiety song you choose.

Now, put your anxiety song to work in the same way you did with your fear song: On repeat, with headphones, in a safe place without distractions. Listen until you’re spent.


That’s when you’ll find relief, and the opportunity to welcome courage authentically and fully — not just as a willpower mindset, but as holistic energy for physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual action.

Courage is remarkable because its emotional power is so closely tied to fear and anxiety.

That is, without fear and anxiety, what reason would you have for courage?


The relief you feel from fear or anxiety contains energy, too. Rather than just willing yourself to be brave, which cuts you off from the supply of energy in fear and anxiety.

This novel musical practice of allowing feelings you don’t want also transforms the energy in those feelings for good.

When you’re wrung out after listening to your fear or anxiety music, take that beautiful, vulnerable moment to engage your music for courage. You’ll find yourself much more connected to the power in courage once you’ve safely shed the unwanted emotional aspects of fear and anxiety.

The best part? Practicing — listening with intent — to your song for fear or your song for anxiety, or any other purpose-based song develops and strengthens those durable neural pathways that help you re-wire your response to fear or anxiety triggers.


Since your guidance system (your brain) doesn’t know the difference between an actual sound and an imagined one, when you recall your music, your system responds almost immediately with the effect you’ve been practicing.

You get relief, followed by the opportunity to engage powerful, holistic courage.

Who wouldn’t want that?

You have a lifetime of unexperienced fear and anxiety to release, which is why practice is so useful. Practicing — intentionally listening to — your fear and anxiety music relieves some of that built-up pressure and strengthens a durable response to real-time triggers when they happen. And they will.

RELATED: 20 Perfect Love Songs To Show Your Guy Just How Much You Adore Him


Bill Protzmann is the founder of Music Care Inc., a for-profit corporation dedicated to teaching practical ways music can be used for self-care. His latest book, More Than Human, explains how and why re-engaging the human spirit can make a practical and positive difference.