Anxiety, anyone? Ways to Soothe Yourself

Sloane Miller Health Guide
  • "Music has charms to soothe a savage breast"--Congreve

    Or an anxious one.


    I was invited to attend a Sunday matinee performance of the 92nd street Y Lyrics and Lyricists series. The 92nd Street YMHA is one of the oldest and finest cultural and community centers the city has to offer. They have everything from religious services, a gym with a pool [very rare in NYC], auditoriums that feature music and lectures; one of the best literary series in the city -- all within affordable price points.


    On this afternoon, the program was featuring the works of lyricist Sammy Kahn. If you don't know his name you definitely know his music: "Love and Marriage," "Three Coins in the Fountain," and "Call Me Irresponsible" are just a few of his most recognizable hits. The man was a hit monster really. You can listen to a podcast of Sammy from the 1972 show he did at the Y, which revitalized his career.

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    While in the audience, listening to these classic movie songs from the 1940s, 50s and 60s, many of them ballads and torch songs I noticed something significant: my breathing slowed, my heart rate became steady, my body was relaxed as all tension was released into the songs being sung on stage. When I left the auditorium, I floated out and felt relaxed all afternoon.


    I wasn't completely surprised; often I've used music as my non-medical Valium: Brahms during a bumpy flight; Mozart when stuck in horrible traffic; Liszt during a dentist appointment, especially during drilling.


    Music, especially classical music, puts me in a state of complete relaxation, immediately. (Which is ironic considering that, as a child, when meeting with my piano teacher, I was a non-relaxed mess because I never practiced.)


    There have been several studies of the calming effects of music upon medical patients. For example, a study of colonoscopy patients as reported by the NIH states: "Listening to music during colonoscopy helps reduce the dose of sedative medications, as well as patients' anxiety, pain, dissatisfaction during the procedure. Therefore, we believe that listening to music can play an adjunctive role to sedation in colonoscopy. It is a simple, inexpensive way to improve patients' comfort during the procedure."


    On a non-surgical side, those of us with asthma often experience various states of anxiety and panic: "The mechanism between asthma and anxiety is many-fold," says Kelkar, a physician at Allergy and Asthma Care in Maple Grove, Minn. "Uncontrolled emotions can work the nerves and cause constriction of muscles, like the smooth muscles of the airways in the lungs. They tighten up and constrict, which can worsen wheezing, coughing, and chest tightness in people with asthma."

  adds that while anxiety cannot cause an asthma attack,

    "... anxiety and nervous stress can cause fatigue, which may also increase asthma symptoms and aggravate an attack. As with any other chronic health condition, proper rest, nutrition and exercise are important to overall well-being and can help in managing asthma." Any of you who have experienced even a mild asthma attack know that panicky feeling of NOT being able to breathe. That panic feeds on itself -- it's very insidious that way: the worst feeling is both wheezing uncontrollably and panicking!


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    If you've read my posts before you'll know I like to do everything I can to prevent illness before it strikes, including asthma attacks. For me that means I rely upon my avoidance strategies; that is, staying very far away from the allergens that provoke my asthma. If I can't avoid the allergen, the action plan is to get out of there immediately, use my rescue inhaler when needed and continue to use my rescue inhaler until the asthma has abated (that can be up to three days if I wasn't able to avoid well enough!)


    It's important to remember that managing asthma includes the times when you aren't wheezing as well as the times that you are. When you're well, try to remember to breathe deeply, relax your body, meditate, listen to music or your favorite podcast, laugh or do another relaxing activity. These positive activities help overall health but also give you a place to return to, if only in your mind, when you are feeling less well.

Published On: January 14, 2008