“I can’t control what my thoughts are doing. These thoughts create an emotion in me and that emotion feels like a heavy weight on my chest. I don’t want to eat, I don’t want to do anything,” said Rachel as we discussed her struggle with anxiety. For her, the first glimpse of anxiety came at a Phish concert – whether from the marijuana or the throngs of people pouring into the venue, in Rachel’s mind the situation became dire. “My friend and I were trying to get to our seats and we get halfway across and I began feeling like I was dying. It was a full-on panic attack. I wanted to leave, I didn’t want to be there anymore, and in that moment, the music no longer mattered.” The panic Rachel felt is not unusual at all.
Anxiety disorders are one the most common mental illnesses in the U.S. with the National Institute of Mental Health estimating nearly 40 million people as being affected. Concerts, often a liberating experience for people, can exacerbate existing anxiety issues – crowds and fluid dynamics can make the experience of seeing live music a hellish one. Considering that Colorado is a live music mecca, having anxiety can be prohibitive to enjoying the vibrant music scene Colorado has to offer. So we got in touch with several Denver music lovers and anxiety professionals for some tips to overcome the anxiety and face the music.
Go In With A Purpose
For Meg O’Neill, one of 303 Magazine’s staff photographers, her anxiety stems from a sexual assault at a college concert and she has found sometimes a change in perspective reclaims the concert experience. Speaking of her photography, “I’ve always used my photography as a tool for coping and understanding my emotions and expressing them for that matter. Being able to bring my camera with me to a high anxiety situation that I crave to enjoy really switches the whole experience around. It gives me a purpose and the perspective of, ‘I’m here to create, just like the artists are doing and the crowd is something separate I can choose to be a part of.”’ While certain credentials are needed to be a professional photographer, redefining the concert experience for yourself can be as simple as a matter of blogging on overcoming the anxiety in the first place, finding ways to express when the anxiety was triggered and more importantly in the cases where the anxiety remained at bay.
Change Your Thinking
Denver-based therapist and workshop leader of Go-Mindful Counseling LLC, Margie Ahern classifies anxiety as, “one of five destructive emotions – anxiety, guilt, shame, anger and depression.” According to Ahern, concerts themselves are not causal, rather they act as “activating events” for existing anxiety. Anxiety manifests when there is irrational thinking and a concert attendee believes that if something happened it would be awful and they would not be able to stand it. If the concert was indeed causal there would be no ability to change its outcome, however, by simply creating a new thought with a positive emotional and physiological consequence the anxiety can be reduced or eliminated. When speaking about changing your thinking, Ahern explained, “you create new neural pathways in the brain to bypass the old ones. You create new ways of thinking so you don’t feel the anxiety anymore. While the old neural pathways never go away, the anxious thoughts can be right there waiting for you if you are not mindful.”
Bring A Friend
Going to concerts alone is not for everybody. For some people like Avan Allen, a Denver local and avid music fan who routinely works large-scale festivals like SXSW, being able to bring a friend takes some of the edge off of going into the constantly fluctuating concert scene. “Find the happy place where you can exist in crowded space. For me being with a group of friends is sometimes that answer, and sometimes it is being alone towards the back and just knowing that I can remove myself from the environment whenever I need to,” said Allen.
Concerts are prone to being unpredictable at times, but being open with your friends about your anxiety and when a situation becomes too overwhelming for you allow you the option of leaving, with them understanding why. Likewise, friends can act as a comfortable support you can rely on for reassurance.
Know Where You Are, And Where You Are Comfortable
It helps to really get to know your surroundings. Know where the exits are if you have to go, know where security is, even observe where the crowd congregates. Many venues like Red Rocks Amphitheatre and the Pepsi Center allow you to view the venue prior to a concert if you need, and smaller theaters like the Ogden and Bluebird utilize photos and seating layouts to give concert goers a sense of what they are getting themselves into prior to the show. “A pro to having anxiety is the level of awareness that comes with it,” said Rachel, because as someone who suffers from anxiety, knowing the situation that provides you the most peace of mind is key to having the best experience possible. Likewise, there is no shame in relocating yourself to less crowded sections of the venue like the balcony or the back of the venue.
Don’t Indulge in Substances
Indulging at concerts is one thing, but indulging in substances to alleviate anxiety can be a pitfall according to University of Colorado Denver Associate Clinical Professor Kevin Everhart. “To pair or use some type of drug, like alcohol to deal with anxiety leads one to feel like they ‘need’ that particular drug to cope,” which can, in turn, lead one to abuse substances or worsen one’s anxiety. However, there are medications for people with anxiety disorders, “SSRI medication and Zoloft are very commonly prescribed to people. Often times [these] medications can lead substantive changes in a good way.”
Go For It
Katie Boudreau, another 303 Magazine contributor who deals with anxiety, believes the best way overcome it is to tackle it head on. Speaking on her experience she said, “at some point, you need to tell yourself to just go. When you are there and the music starts and everyone is on that same wavelength – your worries and fears quite literally fade away. You only focus on what’s in front of you and that’s the music and the people moving with it.” While the process of the concert may be anxiety inducing, once all is settled experiencing live music can actually benefit one’s anxiety, the hardest part is deciding to ride it out in the first place.