Normalizing Anxiety: the New Music of Mental Health

Music is a form of communication; melody comes through in conjunction with lyrics to produce translations for what is typically abstract - something universal yet so undeniably individualistic. It’s a form of relation that gives intimacy and ubiquity.

What this enables us to achieve is presenting concepts as unquestionable truths, providing authoritative voices that state ideas with weight, but also a sense of normalcy. In a generation of malaise seeded in the uncertainty of the individual, mental health has become a point of importance. While still stigmatized, it’s an issue affecting many while shunned by more; an inescapable condition with feelings of isolation that are sure to come to the surface, stewed in the toxic assurance of abnormality. This is when understanding these feelings to be common while not sacrificing the importance of recognizing what makes them personalized is integral and this is when the normalcy music provides becomes necessary.


“How come every outcome is such a comedown?

Lately afternoon with the shades drawn down”


In the low points of the past few years, I had found myself in yet another relapse into the anxieties I thought I was sure to have shed. Waistband cinched to cover up the weight lost to unresolvable questions, I found myself many nights isolating myself for the sake of hiding what I had become. It was in these nights that I turned to music; it became couch bound conversations for catharsis where every sentence was a problem punctuated with an ampersand. One album in particular went from an experience to a constant reiteration of concepts necessary for a rehabilitation. Pinegrove’s Cardinal is a study of the human condition; mulling themes of imperfect communication, insecurity, an inability to retain friends and the inevitability of losing old ones, songwriter Evan Stephens Hall indulged in the feelings I had become soaked in, lapping at my throat in an inevitable sinking descent. The personal uncertainty of unknowing and the imperfections of relationships created a festering wallow of self-doubt, but what comes to preoccupy the mind is introspective thought: an attempt to understand just how far gone I was.


“So satisfied I said a lot of things tonight

So long Aphasia and the ways it kept me hiding”


Depression and anxiety are defined by the isolation. Talking about it, rectifying it, coming up with solutions, these are all extremely difficult when the issues themselves are dynamic, running out from under the finger about to be placed on them; the discussions that need to take place are robbed of possibility. Aphasia is the inability to form language, typically caused by damage to the brain, but Evan Stephens Hall uses it to describe the powerlessness of being incapable to say what needs to be said due to anxiety. It is a feeling commonly shared and a perfect description to my shortcomings. Hearing them in song made me feel less alone, like my issues were not just my own, and it made me come to the realization that other people are capable of experiencing what I was. This pushed me to say what I needed to say because if I was going through this now, my friends, family, and loved ones were sure to go through it as well.


“The truth is I lost all track of time

 And I wound up wandering

 Unraveling fragments all inside

 But I rise up all aligning”


The truth is, mental well-being isn’t consistent, nor predictable. It’s hard to know when someone is experiencing something they can’t deal with on their own or when your assistance is needed, let alone what that assistance actually is. While Cardinal as an album gave my issues a sense of normalcy and helped me come to terms with what I needed, it also enabled me to better attempt to be the person I wanted to be for others. Saying what needs to be said isn’t as simple as being reactionary, it requires a proactive perpetuation of positivity, validation, and actualization.                               


So I resolve to make new friends

 Someone tell me to quit my head

 And help me forget it”


These albums are not just exploratory ventures into a newly acknowledge state of debilitation and solutions, but a necessary sharing of normalcy. We can’t be reactionary when one falls into an unpredictable state and while we’re quick to classify these conditions, we have to acknowledge that it’s a spectrum with many manifestations far more ubiquitous than we want to believe. Thankfully, this has now become a subject a lot of music has indulged in as a source of inspiration and a subject of discussion. It’s proof to any individual that the loneliness they are going through is not from what they’re feeling, but how it affects their perceptions of themselves and others. I personally have a lot of gratitude for the musicians doing so as they’ve helped me find the improvement I needed to better manage my anxieties, but also for helping me realize that I’m not nearly as far gone as I thought I was. For us as a society to become as best suited as possible for this issue, we need the discussion to begin. Just as music has acted as the perfect inception of political concepts in the past, it can do so for understanding emotional circumstance in the present. So reach out to a friend, tell someone you love them, acknowledge their accomplishments, explore what you find special in an individual close to you, because the chances are these are things they don’t hear enough. Support doesn’t need to be about being a life preserver in rampant, rapid waters, it’s can be about keeping the boat from ever capsizing.

By Brendan Tuytel