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How to create a mental health resilience playlist to ease anxiety

Music can help alleviate stress, anxiety and depression. Here’s how to create your very own mental health playlist to help you through the most difficult times, according to a leading professor in psychology. 

So you have a playlist to help you through your sweat sessions, one for when you’re cooking, a another for those lit Saturday nights.

So, why don’t you have one for when you feel overwhelmed with anxiety and stress?

In fact, music has been used to alleviate such emotions and trigger symptoms for decades.

“Music has a wide range of features that affect our emotions and physiological systems,” Professor in Psychology and SEEK Sleepmix ambassador, Bill Thompson, tells Body+Soul.

“They include rhythm and tempo, which can be fast or slow depending on the mood that is desired, pitch and melody, which can be high and low; instruments that sometimes sound like a human voice, creating a feeling of empathy; and intensity, which can be loud or soft depending on the energy level we want.

“We now know that these features, collectively, can trigger the release of neurochemicals that control mood and energy, reduce stress hormones, and increase hormones associated with social bonding and mutual trust.”

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But as much as music can help ease anxiety, putting on the wrong beats can actually aggravate your emotions.

“We need to be careful not to play music that induces a “fight or flight” response,” Thompson explains.

“Relaxing music is characterised by slow tempo, a simple and predictable rhythm, gently flowing melodies and harmonies, and smooth harmonious instrumental sounds, such as strings or harp.”

However, “music that works best depends on the individual – their personality, music preferences, coping style, gender, music background, and social support.”

Thompson highlights five key factors to consider when choosing the right music to address anxiety:

1. If your anxiety relates to feelings of disappointment or sadness…

Try listening to music that is positive and uplifting, and that you identify strongly with.

2. If your anxiety is related to feeling unsure of yourself…

Try listening to your “favourite” music. The music that you love will reduce anxiety by reminding you of your core values, thereby boosting your confidence.

3. If your anxiety relates to loneliness…

Put on the music that you most enjoy with other people, and that connects you with a supportive community of like-minded people. You will feel less anxious when you feel part of a larger social group.

5. If your anxiety relates to feeling like you have no control over your situation…

Try playing empowering music. Empowering music is not always relaxing; it can be energetic, involve “power chords”, or have inspiring lyrics.

While each person’s mental health resilience playlist will differ depending on the reasoning, their musical preferences, personality, coping style, social support and musical background, “the perfect playlist to ease anxiety should emphasise calm but uplifting music.”

“It should also address the reasons that you are feeling anxious, and take into consideration your current goals,” Thompson adds.

3 tips to creating a playlist to ease anxiety

Here are Thompson’s three tips to creating the perfect playlist to help ease anxiety and stay calm:

1. If you plan to listen to the playlist late at night, it’s time to wind down, so choose music that is familiar and relaxing – with a slower tempo, predictable and repetitive rhythms, simple melodies and harmonies, peaceful instruments such as strings, and calm, uplifting lyrics.

2. Music that is tender, peaceful, or nostalgic works well; whereas you should avoid highly energetic music, dance music, frenetic or complex music, or even popular “catchy” tunes that might get stuck in your head.

3. As a rule of thumb, if you want the music to help you sleep, then it should be “ambient” or “background” music that soothes you to sleep, and that doesn’t require too much attention or focus to follow.

SEEK recently launched its ‘SEEK Sleepmix’ in partnership with Spotify and Briggs, with the aim to help Aussies manage their stress and anxiety a bit better.