• Anxiety, Depression and Rock and Roll

    Who doesn’t want to be a Rock Star? I recently had my shot at fame, along with another 100 kids. Wentworth Music School in Kelowna has done 27 of these shows. All the money goes to a charity and they have topped $250K!!!

    Aside from the fun of playing in front of 850 people, I learned some new things about anxiety and depression.

    While I have been a closet guitarist for 10 years (Spanish acoustic) I have NEVER played outside of the house. When I heard that our music school had this “show” I signed up. Then I found out it was an electric guitar I needed to play. Well I had never held and electric, ow well.

    I thought it would be a little stressful and it’s a chance to “inoculate.” I often put myself in “stressful” situations, especially when they are completely safe. But often anxiety, something I have had forever, is not always kind. Sometimes (many times) what paralyzes an anxiety person has absolutely no real danger.

    There is this thing called “adrenal response training.” Where a young man (me) spends a whole bunch of money to go get the heck scared out of him. Then we get taught to respond inside of that adrenaline state. It can be a crazy time and I have been doing those types of experiences for about 40 years.

    At a super basic level anxiety can freeze a person because every sensor turns on and they paralyze. Depression is a different animal, again super basic, it can suppress a lot of a persons senses and they also become still.

    Operating inside of those ‘states’ can be difficult. A way is to have a set up where experts put a person in that state and then coaches them threw to the “other side” where they can function.

    So what did I learn. I was never on a team or part of a group before. While I have done a ton of adrenal response training it’s mostly been individual efforts. Being part of a “rock band” was completely new to me.

    As you can tell I was the oldest by far, there are 20 bands in the show and there are some other adults but mostly it’s school age kids, of all stripes. There was every race, body type, orientation and personality types.

    I found it fascinating to watch the magic happen. We had a four step staging process.

    1. Holding room: where we just all sat around and waited out turn.
    2. Holding room staging: where they got our band together and made sure we were all there.
    3. Hallway staging: all the instruments had a final check and tuning.
    4. Stage left holding: just off the stage, we could watch the other band preform

    In the holding room it was so interesting as some kids visited, some played cards (uno’s making a comeback), some had their hoodies covering their face, many on their phones.

    In the holding room staging some kids ran to check in, others held back and the rest of the band went and got them. It was all excitement and let’s go do it. I think the shy/depressed kids just got so much excitement from their anxiety peers, it gave them the ability to transform into a show-person.

    Then it changes, the hallway staging area it starts to get real. You can hear the band playing their song, the guitarists are furiously tuning their guitars for the 5th time. My hand started to shake like crazy. I was looking at it thinking, “okay Ward, there are 14 kids looking at you, pull it together.” My fellow guitarist, a more depressed personality, comes over, all of 13, and says, “I got like that my first time, you’ll be fine.” I thought I was going to pee myself laughing, but I kept it together.

    Then it’s stage left and everyone just enters the zone of silence, left to our own thoughts. Our teachers, the experts, have given us the pep talk in the last holding zone. Then presto it’s our turn.

    Once I hit the stage I was fine. I did my part the fans went crazy and off we went. We did a bunch of high 5’s off stage and returned to the holding room. This was a interesting time also. One of the older kids told us he was almost sick at the start of the song, but recovered. The rest of the kids just went yeah that’s cool. Then another shared, and on and on.

    It was like the most mature thing I have ever seen, each helping the other with honesty and encouragement. I have read, written and told people one of our biggest problems is the lack of “community” where we all need to belong to groups. it was super cool to see one in action.

    Each kid had strengths and weaknesses, but as a group it was all just strengths. A key point for adults would be no kid, in my group of 15, overpowered any other kid. It was really a “group.”

    There are so many lessons I got from watching these kids in a band, but I’ll end with this one. Most of the kids are paralyzed on stage, they barely can move anything but what needs to for playing. Over time you can see kids that have done a few as they move much easier.

    But once the crowd starts to clap, magic, absolute magic happens. The depressed personality kids start to radiate, and the anxiety personality kids start to soften and relax and feel. If I could bottle that, wow that would be great. I think unquestioning encouragement is also an important ingredient in the success of it all.

    I have not talked to the music school about this and for sure they are NOT NOT NOT running a psychology project. They are running bands of kids threw a process they have done for years. That I think has a lot more benefits than I realized until I did it.

    I was happy to be a part of it. I was skiing today, I get out of the truck and within 10 seconds I hear a person yell. “Hey your the guitarist for Yellow at the concert last night, your awesome.”

    and my 15 minutes of fame is complete.

    Be Well,
    Ward Willison
    Kelowna Acupuncture & Other Natural Therapies