Remove ads, unlock a dark mode theme, and get other perks by upgrading your account. Experience the website the way it's meant to be.

How emo music helped my anxiety

Discussion in 'Music Forum' started by Duncan Bell, Mar 16, 2017.

  1. Duncan Bell


    I wrote an essay at the end of last year to act as a way of coping with the anxiety I was suffering at the time. I haven't really known what to do with it for the past few months, but considering music plays a significant role, I thought this community might be the best place to share it. If you do read the whole thing, thank you for your time and consideration. If you don't - that's fair enough - it's more of a personal release than an effort to please but thanks anyway.

    21st Century Breakdown

    The hope of music amid the growing mental health crisis in the digital age

    “Anxiety’s calling in my head. Is it back again? Are you back again?”

    Mark Hoppus’ haunting lyric from the opening track of Blink 182’s latest album – California – could easily be dismissed as a successful emo band from the early noughties trying to recapture some of the teenage angst that made them so successful at the turn of the 21st century. Their previously teenage fans however, who bought their albums on what seems now like the prehistoric format of Compact Disc in their droves 15 years ago, have all grown up. I am one of those fans. Recently turned 30, engaged to a beautiful fiancée, I have a successful professional career so far that has included a recent transition to the ever-glamourous expat lifestyle in Hong Kong. I’m well-travelled and own my own property back home in Edinburgh accompanied by a not too horrendous mortgage. Financially secure, employed, fit and healthy just like many people my age. Yet if this is the case, shouldn’t I and countless others like me have grown out of our collective teenage angst – shouldn’t Hoppus, Jim Adkins, Billie-Joe Armstrong et al from the early-to-mid noughties emo-generation be declining in popularity, cease to exist or at the very least be writing about more positive things. Judging by their new releases in 2016 and sell-out tours – evidently not.[ii]

    Undoubtedly part of this is that these musicians are extremely talented. But their subject matter – anxiety, nervousness, doubt and depression is becoming a larger and larger part of this modern generation’s psyche. Any trawl of Buzzfeed, Facebook and Twitter will highlight that extremely quickly. But this goes beyond the unreliable diaspora of social media. This millennial mental health malaise is quickly becoming an epidemic. According to several sources the number of young people aged 30 and under who are being diagnosed with mental health problems is higher than it has ever been before. In fact a recent NHS study shows that young woman have a 1 in 4 likelihood and young men a 1 in 8 likelihood of having a mental health disorder as of right now.[iii] So why haven’t a generation of young professionals been able to grow out of their teenage angst?

    What’s it like to sprain your brain?

    Like most people I never thought I myself would develop a mental health problem. I have no family history of it and throughout my life I’ve never had to deal with anything overtly traumatic. Up-to-now I’ve had a successful education and career. However, in my circle of friends I know of at least 3 who have separate and very different mental health issues they are being treated for. Whilst being very supportive of them I found it difficult to know if I was truly helping. Providing an ear to listen and a re-assuring positive perspective is all well and good but as with many health problems you never really know how to handle the situation – until of course, it happens to you.

    My first day of work in my thirties was the most awful day I’ve ever had.

    Butterflies in my stomach that would rival a Mike Tyson punch to the gut, a complete inability to eat anything without gagging, dizziness, light-headedness and a gloomy dreaded shroud of doubt that led to sitting paralysed and dazed in front of a computer screen fighting the temptation to run out of the office door screaming with every ounce of my being. Sound familiar to anyone? If it does then you’ll be in the same situation I was and am – a high anxiety sufferer.

    These symptoms were the culmination of weeks of worry. The very next day I sent myself home after an hour in the office for fear of feinting at my desk. Once back in my apartment I did something I hadn’t done since I was a child – I broke down and sobbed into my pillow. Full-on, heart wrenching, tear-filled sobs.

    These are not the actions of a healthy person. A diagnosis by my GP that day, 2 weeks off work and seeing a trained psychologist were the path to my recovery. As well as that though, I found solace in music – a list of bands telling me they’ve been through the same experiences and melodic advice belted out over catchy hooks and crunchy guitars. One song in particular resonated highly – a song from my teens that I’d rediscovered in a live 10th anniversary version on Spotify with a crowd of thousands reaching out to me through my headphones, singing in unison with a potency that strained with a need for release, a need to tell the world (including me) that they’d been going through their own mental struggles and found reassurance in the fellow fans of their music scene. Their advice:

    “Take a breath. Now let it out! The worst is over, for now!”

    “We get through. Tomorrow. And we’ll be fine!”[iv]

    These lines from L.A band Finch’s Post Script mean even more to me now as a 30 year old than they did when I first heard them as a 16 year old excitedly putting on a newly purchased CD album in my bedroom back home in South Lanarkshire.

    What surprised me most about my high anxiety were the physical side effects of it. You would associate anxiety with worry, nervous twitches, feeling mentally stressed and maybe some hyper-ventilating. Nothing too serious. That dismissiveness however is what caught me off guard. In the end, my inability to identify what was happening to me led to a severe physical reaction to a mental health problem.

    But it’s not just me, as mentioned previously, mental anxiety and other conditions similar to it are on the rise.

    So what’s causing all this?

    Is it just that my generation are simply whiny? Are we just a bunch of immature kids who have been so mollycoddled that we can’t face up to the responsibilities and pressures of adult life? After all, our anxiety should be nowhere near the scale of our grandparents generation. We’ve had no global conflict to be caught up in or PTSD to deal with en masse. We should be happy that we have more choice, more knowledge and more access to the world than any generation prior to us in history. And yet…

    The trappings of a truly modern, 21st century, digital lifestyle are starting to become apparent and I believe there are 3 culprits that, at least from my own experience, I feel are contributing to not only my anxieties, but those of my friends and fellow 1980’s babies. All 3 are due to my generation’s addiction to comparisons. Specifically – 3 types of unhealthy comparison.

    Digital self vs You IRL

    Most of you will be aware of the much-commented on behaviour of presenting a better digital version of yourself compared to how you actually are in the real world[v]. In fact, when was the last time you read a Facebook status or tweet saying – “ You know what, today’s been awful. I’m failing at my job, I’m worried about $$$ and I’m struggling with being single #NeedAHug”

    Instead, almost unilaterally we present a refined, idealistic version of ourselves on social media. And so do all our friends and acquaintances. Therefore, when we see other people’s lives displayed on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, they all seem to be hugely successful and unbearably happy when compared to the one life we know about intimately including its non-digitized, less polished aspects – our own life.

    This first unhealthy comparison has been written about extensively. One of the pre-eminent thought leaders in the subject of “Facebook anxiety” and how the pressures put on your digital persona can affect you negatively in the real world is Professor Ben Marder at Edinburgh University – in fact you could call him a Doctor of Facebook (one of his most intriguing studies involved strip clubs, rollercoasters and free money highlighting that you’ll share photos of a day at a theme park online but not of an evening at a gentleman’s club.)

    Dr. Marder’s study shows that as more people join Facebook and we accumulate ever more “Friends” to compare ourselves with, this increases our anxiety.

    "Facebook used to be like a great party for all your friends where you can dance, drink and flirt. But now with your Mum, Dad and boss there the party becomes an anxious event full of potential social landmines."[vi]

    These “social landmines” and the anxiousness they cause can sometimes all bundle together as a reinforced message of inadequacy compared to your peers. This is then rammed home to you hundreds of times a day via the apps on your smart phone which of course we’re all now addicted to.[vii]

    More so than this, I found in my own case this comparison wasn’t solely against my peers – it was against myself. With Facebook highlighting almost on a daily basis memories that my younger self posted in happy times over the last decade, it leaves me vulnerable on a bad day to look back and see myself as much happier in those carefree days as a student, a back-packer or a graduate. Where did that confident guy go who’s got his arms outstretched, victorious over a beer-pong table whilst wearing a ridiculous top hat? He’s now crunching numbers endlessly in front of a spreadsheet that nobody wants and putting hundreds of slides into presentations that nobody reads at 10pm when everyone else has gone home and is posting pictures of their wonderful dinner online.

    This grim reality makes it easy to see why someone could get nostalgically depressed.

    Daily grind and piling through pointless work for a few years can’t be a new phenomenon though. Anyone who’s a fan of the cult hit film Office Space will know that this desk-based hell has been around for decades. So what’s changed? Well – not to humblebrag or anything – but didn’t you know us “Millenials” are special?

    You need to be special and super-awesome and entrepreneurial and compete against the brightest & best & have 3 degrees and already run your own business and be an incredibly high achiever in order to fill out our mindless spreadsheets

    Anyone who has graduated in the last 10 years will know what I mean. You fill out hundreds of application forms for endless grad schemes where companies blow their own trumpet and sell you the prospect of becoming someone who “gives people the power to share” (Facebook), creating “innovation that matters” (IBM) that allows people to “realise their full potential throughout the world” (Microsoft).

    All corporate bullshit telling you that you need to be a unicorn of amazement – then once hired you go through the drudgery of all the worst aspects of Microsoft’s Office products so that some head honcho on the executive board that you’ll never speak to can ignore the content of it and then criticize it for not being in the right format or having the correct colour coding or being on-brand.

    That courting and wooing of you as a special “Millenial” quickly comes crashing down around you and you realise that, as a matter of fact, you’re just like everybody else. Or even worse- you’re the only one who is experiencing this crap because everyone else is tweeting about the office beer-trolley, the company weekend away and how they work in the best team ever! And suddenly this powerpoint horror becomes a very lonely place. It can knock the confidence out of even the thickest skinned young person. Therefore, this second unhealthy comparison against the ideal vision of work that is spewed out by top companies to attract the best talent again falls very short of reality. [viii]

    In my own experience, what’s even worse is that the CSR line of looking after employees didn’t quite live up to billing in my company. My benefit of a private healthcare plan doesn’t cover mental health problems – meaning that if you do get referred to a psychologist by your GP, the company won’t foot the bill. Another financial burden to add on to graduates already carrying more debt than any generation that has gone before them.[ix]

    Surely life never used to be this difficult? Wasn’t there a time when it was relatively easy to buy a house without worrying so much about the borrowing costs? When a university or college education wouldn’t cost you the world? When services like health, capital borrowing and childcare weren’t potential roads to bankruptcy? Well, this is where the 3rd and final comparison addiction comes in – comparing ourselves to our parents.

    When my parents were my age…

    Without my parents I would not be on the property ladder, I’m one of the lucky ones. In 1985 when my Dad was 30, his generation would on average buy their property for 3.5 times their annual salary. When I bought my first property 30 years later in 2015 the average first-time buyer would have to pay over 5.5 times their annual salary to buy their first property.[x]

    Therefore, once you’re in the rat race, it’s now extremely hard to get out thanks to much higher mortgage payments on an ever-increasing sizes of first-time mortgages. But this generational capital difference isn’t just money – it is a difference in lifestages and personal independence too.

    This is further down the line than just your first flat. The average age of buying a property for the second time i.e. when you’re more likely to upsize and think about a family home – has risen in the U.K. from 34 in 1985 to 42 now.[xi] In addition, having a child to prompt buying that family home is coming later in life too, with the average age of a first-time Mum in the UK now just over 30 compared with just under 27 in the 1980s.[xii] All this is leading to a third type of comparison – against our own parents.

    “I’m not as good as them because by this stage in life they were married with kids, had their own home and were further up the career ladder – whereas I now live in my Dad’s basement” (a true statement for 2 of my friends).

    These 3 unhealthy comparative behaviors combined paint a pretty bleak picture – my friends are better than I am, my younger carefree self was happier than I am, my parents were more successful in life than I am at this age and companies expect me to be something I can’t possibly live up to. It all adds to the mental pressure that those just entering their prime working years in the second decade of the 21st century feel they are under.

    Revolution Radio[xiii]

    However, there is always hope. I am absolutely hopeful that a revolution is coming. Appropriately, it’s a digital one.

    As with almost everything for my generation, the solution to our problems will most likely come in the form of an app.

    Studies in the U.S have shown that machine learning and algorithmic diagnosis are becoming more and more effective at spotting mental health issues.[xiv] The studies even uncover a shockingly negative evaluation of human mental health professionals, saying that their ability to spot serious conditions that may lead to suicidal behavior is no better than 50/50 and is merely down to chance. Quite a scathing statement which I myself take with a pinch of salt from a generation that seems to find no wrong doing in the tech companies it puts on pedestals. At any rate, the digital mental health revolution is coming – Facebook already carries ads for self-help online psychologists that allow vulnerable people an outlet.

    However, I can’t help but feel that the human touch is still essential. The digital apps and technological brainwave monitoring solutions (real products!) are in one way slightly down heartening as they are another step towards removing human interaction rather than increasing it and in another way absolutely terrifying. And this brings me back to the music.

    I asked earlier about why the emo generation’s favourite artists are still around and successful as ever. For me it goes back to those comparative behaviours that have been so damaging. In one retrospective category, nostalgic comparison seems to bring positivity and happiness rather than anxiety and depression: reliving your teenage days when there was an outlet for this angst and a support network for when you were feeling low.

    More crucially though I think what makes this genre of music potentially more relevant now than in its early noughties heyday is because in this one small, niche section of society it’s not a taboo to admit that “I’m Not Okay”[xv], “There’s a Devil in My Bloodstream”[xvi] and that “The Future Freaks Me Out.”[xvii] In fact, in this musical network of bands, fans and online commentators it is actually seen as a positive behavior to spill your heart out.

    When Jimmy Eat World’s Jim Adkins laments on their latest record Integrity Blues about having “A picture of the look when I knew I’d lost you”[xviii] you know he really fucking means it! That moment still burns with hurt and despair. It matters.

    The pain of that moment is beautifully realized, beautifully relatable and identifies vulnerability in a way that no other section of society seems to be able or willing to do in my opinion. Politicians, celebrities and journalists in this “post-truth” reality TV era have lost all sense of this credibility, even when they do put forward sob stories about past failures in their life it always carries an air of media manipulation and lack of genuineness. Instead, these musicians allow an authentic voice to pierce through the social media fog and resonate with a message that tells fans like me I’m not alone and that despite these heartaches and sense of misery, there is still hope and that hope doesn’t need to be perfect.

    Green Day, the surprising voice of a disillusioned 21st Century generation, offer the most basic stripped back reminder of why you are alright and why there is hope for the future.

    “Cause I’m still breathing. Cause I’m still breathing on my own. My heads above the rain and roses” [xix]

    As long as you keep your head up and keep breathing, there’s always still hope.

    So my advice for those who are part of an ever-increasing group of mental disorder sufferers is this – listen to an emo band, any emo band, and know that you’re not alone. Consume the music, savour it, treasure it and allow it to mean everything to you. Then go to a concert and sing your heart out with dozens of others just like you – it beats the digital alternatives Hands Down.[xx]

    Cynical – Track 1 – California – Blink 182 – 2016

    [ii] The Rise of Emo Nostalgia

    [iii] Young women at 'highest mental health risk' - BBC News

    [iv] Post Script – Track 3 – What It Is To Burn: X – Finch – 2014



    [vii] Millennials Check Their Phones More Than 157 Times Per Day - Social Media Week - New York

    [viii] Mental health emerges as a work problem

    [ix] THE MONEY STATS - Graduates leaving Uni in more debt than ever - The Money Charity

    [x] The one chart that shows how UK houses are now even more unaffordable

    [xi] Average age of second-time buyer hits 42

    [xii]Births by Parents' Characteristics in England and Wales - Office for National Statistics

    [xiii] Revolution Radio – Track 3 – Revolution Radio – Green Day - 2016

    [xiv] New AI Mental Health Tools Beat Human Doctors at Assessing Patients

    [xv] I’m Not Okay – Track 8 – Life on the Murder Scene – My Chemical Romance – 2006

    [xvi] The Devil In My Bloodstream – Track 6 – The Golden Generation – The Wonder Years – 2013

    [xvii] The Future Freaks Me Out – Track 3 – I Am The Movie – Motion City Soundtrack - 2003

    [xviii] The End is Beautiful – Track 8 – Integrity Blues – Jimmy Eat World – 2016

    [xix] Still Breathing – Track 7 – Revolution Radio – Green Day - 2016

    [xx] Hands Down – Track 1 – A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar – Dashboard Confessional - 2003
  2. teebs41

    Prestigious Prestigious

    This is really cool!