NMT COUNTDOWN: Top 10 Songs About Social Anxiety
Music, for many, can be an escape from our day to day. It lets us wind down and put our worries on the backburner. Sometimes, though, that’s not what we need. Like any relationship, our relationship to music can function as a distraction, or it can be a support system.
There are a ton of songs out there to help us shake it off, but what about songs that meet us where we are?
In today’s society, social media can feel anything but social, and the world feels crazy enough already. It’s overwhelming. For many of us, it can be even more challenging to connect with others when your brain seems to be turning against you and amplifying the noise. The writers featured below have given us songs for to help us cope and are a great reminder that even if it’s hard to find a friend, you’ll never have to go through this alone.
10. "Waving Through A Window" – Pasek & Paul (Dear Evan Hansen)
C’mon, gang. We all knew this song was going to be on this list! Evan Hansen has become the latest poster boy for anxiety in the musical theater world, and it’s not hard to see why. Pasek & Paul, with the help of Steven Levenson’s fantastic book, have done a masterful job of portraying deep seeded anxiety and how it can put walls up between us and the people in our lives.
“Waving” speaks to that part of our hearts that wishes we were able to make connections and reach out. No matter what’s holding you back, this song captures that failure to start so perfectly. The best part about it, though, is that it’s not a drab, dreary tune. It’s sweeping and grand, and has a killer drum set part that gets your head banging in record time. The song shows us that it’s not shameful to want more from your life and reflects Evan in one of his bravest moments.
9. "Lisa" – Joe Iconis (The Black Suits)
Picture this: the object of your affection is right there, maybe they’re a classmate in one of your classes or your best friend, or even your significant other. They’re nice to you, always there when you need someone to talk to, and you leave every interaction thankful they’re around. Then…it happens. A little voice in the back of your mind creeps in armed with self-doubt. You don’t deserve that person. They’re only there for you because you duped them somehow. There’s no way of verifying what it says is true, but that little voice seems awfully confident.
“Lisa” is a brutally honest interpretation of our worst self-talk. In The Black Suits, John doubts that he deserves Lisa, even though it’s clear she’s head over heels – she even dyes her hair blue for him! Still, his intrusive thoughts can’t be kept at bay.
It’s is a great reminder that sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason to the things we’re feeling, but it’s okay to feel them. Just remember that it’s also okay to be kind to yourself every once in a while.
8. "Coasting" – Pasek & Paul (Edges)
A Pasek & Paul song about social anxiety that’s not from Dear Evan Hansen? Say it isn’t so! From the song cycle Edges, “Coasting” voices a desire for a meaningful dialogue, the kind that allows people to really get to know one another. Throughout Edges, each song betrays a specific anxiety of early adulthood when you’re finally on your own and just forming your own sense of identity.
“Coasting” takes that a step further, asking what it is to be yourself when you don’t even know who that is yet. It can be hard to put yourself out there and really share yourself with others, especially when you’re just beginning to understand what makes you uniquely you. If I barely know who I am, who’s to say anyone else will give a damn, right? As with the characters in Edges, this song doesn’t have all the answers but it’s nice to know that there are other people out there figuring it out, too. Perhaps we can try to figure it out together.
7. "Cigarette" – Sam Salmond
I have to be honest here – if I were a song, I would be this one. Because I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I am constantly looking several steps ahead in any given situation. This hinders a lot of my social interactions and often leaves me dreaming of who I could be, if only I could just do whatever I wanted and stop worrying.
Now, I won’t advocate taking up a vice because you think it’d make you cool (spoiler alert: it probably won’t). I do think, though, that it’s important to live on the edge every so often and try that thing that kind of scares you. Go to that party, say yes to that blind date, ask your co-workers if you can go with them to lunch that day! It’s true that the catastrophic thing you’ve imagined in your mind might actually happen. What’s more likely, though, is that you’ll put yourself out there and maybe even make a friend or two along the way.
6. "Three Days Without Breathing" – Dean & Brush (The Anxiety Project)
The next two songs are from a show called The Anxiety Project, so you can see why they had to be included on this list. Throughout the show, grad student Avery goes through several case studies of people who are struggling with various mental illnesses, and among them she gains a deeper understanding of what the people she may eventually treat are going through.
In “Three Days Without Breathing,” Laura is trying to explain her mental illness to her boyfriend, who is having difficulty understanding her. For people who don’t suffer from mental illness day in and day out, it’s hard to see the toll it can take on you, making it even harder to maintain those connections. In those instances, it’s helpful to have words to put to what you’re feeling and this song paints a beautiful, if painfully accurate, picture.
5. "Don’t Be Crazy (The iPhone Anxiety Song)" - Dean & Brush (The Anxiety Project)
Also from The Anxiety Project, “Don’t Be Crazy” takes the anxiety of talking to your crush to a whole new level. Unlike Laura trying to explain her illness to her partner, Dylan is trying to hide it. His OCD takes over as he waits and waits for a girl to text him back. The wondering and waiting when talking to your crush is something that would give anyone the jitters, but if you already struggle with an anxiety disorder, an encounter like that can be downright exhausting! “Don’t Be Crazy” is a more lighthearted look at those agonizing minutes before you get a response.
The greatest thing about The Anxiety Project is that many of the songs in this show come directly from real-life experiences, so the entire show is proof that no matter what you’re going through, someone else has gone through it, too.
Note: A reading of The Anxiety Project is happening in January! If you are in the Phoenix area, you can check it out here.
4. "The Last Loser in the Universe" – Drew Gasparini
There’s a strange power in owning your limitations, and that power lies at the heart of “Last Loser in the Universe”. This song, like “Waving Through A Window”, talks about the choice people make to keep to themselves when they have social anxiety. Unlike Evan, the singer uses their time alone to perfect themselves and work on something they’re passionate about. In this case their passion is magic, and the next trick they have up their sleeve is to return from invisibility. They can’t wait for the world to see who they can be.
“The Last Loser in the Universe” is a great way to introduce positive self talk into your routine by singing along. Even if your time to shine hasn’t come yet, there are people out there who can’t wait to meet you and will think you’re absolutely magical.
3. "I’m Cool" – Sam Salmond
Most of the songs on this list are an inner monologue. There’s a sense of intimacy to them that can be comforting. “I’m Cool” is not one of those songs. Instead, Sam Salmond really leans into those awkward interpersonal experiences when you can’t help but say every single word that comes to your mind. Our protagonist admits openly to his mental illness early on and leaves little to the imagination when it comes to what he wants from the brief interaction we see.
(Heads up: if you experience hardcore secondhand embarrassment, this may not be the best song for you!) By the end, though, the walls break down and we see a glimpse of heartbreaking vulnerability under that all the chatter. If this guy can eventually get us to relate to him, anyone can — that means you too!
2. "The Robot Song (Flesh & Bone)" – Joe Iconis
Sometimes anxiety can make you feel uncomfortable in your own skin. It’s difficult to navigate the world when you feel like everyone’s eyes are on you or you feel like you’re wearing your otherness on your sleeve. The titular robot in this song just wishes he was like everyone else. For fear of rejection, he keeps boundaries between himself and others, even when people reach out to him. It takes time, but he learns that no matter how different he is, he’s more human than he thought.
It can be hard to relate to others when you are feeling like an outsider, but the more you let people in, the more people you’ll find.
1. "Holding On" – Kerrigan-Lowdermilk
While this song doesn’t quite speak to any specific experiences with anxiety, it provides a sense of normalcy to that constant tension that many people with anxiety tend to carry. For anyone who suffers with mental illness, whether it’s for a short time or it’s a constant struggle, sometimes just getting through the day can feel like a monumental accomplishment. This song perfectly expresses that sense that time keeps going, the day will begin again, and you’ll still be here no matter how hard it gets. I love that it’s not necessarily an “it gets better”, because that message can get old pretty quickly if you’ve struggled with recovery. This song makes it feel like it’s okay to keep living your life through the panic, the calm, or anything in between. It’s okay to keep holding on.
While music can be a great source of comfort, it’s no substitute for professional help. If you’re experiencing anxiety in any way that is interfering with your daily life, we’ve provided some resources below.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Call 800-273-TALK (8255)
Crisis Text Line – Text NAMI to 741-741
LONG TERM SUPPORT:
National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline - 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
NAMI Support - https://www.nami.org/Find-Support
BetterHelp online counseling - https://www.betterhelp.com/
Talkspace online counseling - https://www.talkspace.com/