I am a big fan of the musical Hamilton, and this week realised that I could use it to stave off the symptoms of anxiety attacks. Allow me to explain.
This week has been particularly stressful and a few times I felt like I was on the verge of an anxiety attack. As I have outlined before (and the tabloids have for me too), having an anxiety attack is not pleasant.
I was out walking this week listening to music. My mind was full of racing and negative thoughts. I recognised that I was beginning to assume that things were going to turn out worse than I had evidence for (this is referred to as Catastrophising). My Spotify was on a random playlist which included songs from early Neil Young to ones from the new Your Heart Breaks album (which is awesome, and you should definitely check out).
My negative thoughts were suddenly broken by the booming opening chords of Alexander Hamilton, the song which opens the show. For those who don’t know, Hamilton is a “sung-and-rapped through musical about the life of American Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton“. Written by Lin Manual-Miranda, it has taken the world by storm. You can see a brilliant video of the cast performing the opening number at the White House for President Obama here.
The opening song (in 4/4 time, so it’s rhythmically calming) is nearly exclusively rapped and I have spent months trying to remember the lyrics and even attempt to rap along (my Wife has regularly pointed out I mumble the bits I don’t know, occasionally shouting out the word or phrases I can grasp).
The first thing anyone advises when you are having an anxiety attack is to breathe. Concentrating on your breathing helps calm you down. My problem with this is that when I start to concentrate my mind wanders back to the fact I am having an anxiety attack. This makes it worse.
On my walk, I noticed that by trying to keep up with the pace of the song I had to breathe regularly otherwise I’d wheeze out the end of the lines, and the breath had to be deep to ensure I could get to the next breath break (I don’t know if that is the official term for it).
Alongside that, I had to concentrate on remembering the lyrics. There are tricky turns of phrase in the song, so I had to really focus to get these right. By doing this, my brain could only think about them, and not the terrifying thoughts it had been heading towards. Rather than catastrophising, I was rhapsodising (sorry, I will never try to spit rhymes again, or indeed use the phrase ‘spit rhymes’).
But it noticeably calmed me down. My breathing felt normal and I could think more clearly. Every time I felt anxious last week, I tried it again. Sometimes with the same song, sometimes with others from the Hamilton Cast Recording. The faster ones were more helpful for me as they didn’t give me a chance to think and I had to pay attention to my breathing.
Deep breaths and distraction, the near-perfect solution to the onset of an anxiety attack. Try it, find songs (or even monologues from films such as the ‘Choose Life’ one from Trainspotting) you like to sing/rap/speak and when you feel the onset of an anxiety attack, give it a go.
If you ever see me and I appear to be talking to myself, but my right arm is going up and down in front of me, I am probably rapping along to the Hamilton soundtrack in my head.
Finally, go see Hamilton, you won’t regret it.