A music playlist for dealing with anxiety and nervous thoughts


We all know how anxiety feels and right now, it feels like we are all on a field trip to the land of Nerve-ia. (Poor puns end here.) There are just so many triggers – anxiety caused by uncertainty, regrets, anxiety from feeling like an imposter. It’s hard, but it’s human to have a response to these triggers, and it’s okay. 

While the phrase “adjusting to the new normal” has been repeated endlessly since March, it’s easier said than done. How do you adjust to an ever-changing situation where the “new normal” is indefinite uncertainty? It was easier to cope with the urgency in the beginning, but how do we continue to adapt now when we know this situation is indefinitely chronic? Everyone is dealing with loss right now. A lot of people are unfortunately having to deal with physical loss, but every single person, no matter where in the world is dealing with intangible, ambiguous loss of a ‘way of life’. It is perhaps the inability to meet family and friends,  loss of trust in our government, personal freedom to move about in our everyday lives, education, career advances, rituals such as graduations, and funerals, and even lesser rituals, such as going to gym or coffee shops. 

Over the years, I have found myself repeatedly reaching out to some music tracks in moments of unease. I usually search for them individually, and have my favorite artist versions of each, but once in a while I also stumble upon other artist interpretations which add a new, sometimes, better flavour to the originals. Of course, there are other amazing tracks too, but the ones listed below have seldom failed to validate whatever it is that I am feeling. Tucked within these tracks that deal with anxiety are a few tracks about hope and feeling better and stressing less because in real life sometimes in the midst of feeling terrible, we get a moment when we feel alright, a moment of respite when somehow we manage to forget whatever it is that’s on our mind before it all comes back again.

Disclaimer – This playlist is not going to help you feel better. However, it will validate your feelings because all these great artists felt the same way you do and used their feelings to make some incredible music. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do. 

I’ve put together a Spotify playlist consisting of these tracks, just to keep everything in one place.  Here’s the link to the Spotify Playlist

Jumping onto the details of the track list now. I have included YouTube links below to showcase where I go for both aural and visual gratification.

1. Dark was the night, Cold was the ground – Blind Willie Johnson

This is a song that the aliens will light a cigarette to. Read on to know why.

Found a really cool titbit when reading about this song – When Voyager 1 probe was launched in September 1977, a phonograph disc called the Golden Record carrying the “murmurs of earth” was put in it. This disc carried messages from humanity in 55 different languages, animal calling sounds, natural sounds of thunder, surf, tribal songs, encrypted photographs of humans, for the benefit of any civilization that might eventually encounter the craft. The choices made by the committee which was led by astrophysicist Carl Sagan, included the usual Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, but there was also this marvelous but odd piece, recorded in 1927 by Blind Willie Johnson. “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground”, adapted from an 18th-century hymn, is wordless, consisting only of Johnson’s slide guitar and his resonant, gospelly, moaning hum. Carl Sagan likened it to launching a message in a bottle into the “cosmic ocean.” 

It is amazing to contemplate this starry destiny for Blind Willie’s music, since during his life he seemed the most earthbound of men. He was born into poverty in Texas, blinded as a very young child, and spent the later years of his life in nearly total obscurity, playing his breathtaking music for strangers on small-town street corners, and then died a lonely death. Yet now, his music sails among the stars.

2. Death Don’t Have No Mercy – Reverend Gary Davis

This one’s not a song. It’s a soul out in the open.

This is some deep stuff. If the shivers down your spine aren’t strong enough, this one will sure make ’em. The song is apt for listening in 2020, amidst this pandemic, where death is not a farout, clinical concept that hits us once in a while. It is more certain than ever, and like the song goes, “Death don’t have no mercy in this land. He’ll come to your house and he won’t stay long. You’ll look in the bed and somebody will be gone.”

The song presents the uncomfortable & undeniable truth that death comes to all, in its own time. There’s a great starkness to this song and Reverend Gary Davis’ powerful vocal adds a great urgency to the desolate and realistic lyrics.

3. Woke Up This Morning – Lightnin’ Hopkins

A good way to listen to this one is when you’re plopped on a wooden rocking chair by a beach or hills, whatever you prefer, watching the sunset through blue-orange skies. Silence, a drink and a keen ear to catch the harmonica. 

Actually, I’ve been listening to Hopkins’ music, and found many of his songs to be conversational, and so his instrument often became a second voice to his discourse, or to end his vocal phrases. He really knew how to take his time. What he also knew was how to make the sad look good. Real good. 

4. Death Letter Blues – Son House

Forget the aggressive instrument playing, his vocals will grab you by your gut.

This particular song is an outstanding example of the workings of time and narrative. It offers richness and complexity in its combination of traditional stanzas and musical setting. “Death Letter” represents a coherent thematic construction wherein the stanzas present a series of events that transpired in the past that synthesise to create a story with specific, identifiable events. 

5. Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd

When Panecea, the Greek goddess of universal remedy falls sick, she listens to Pink Floyd. Yes, believe me! 

This is hard and unfair. I could have just included every single Pink Floyd track in this blog post and it would still make perfect sense. It is conspicuous that Pink Floyd’s music is perfection. I mean, which other artist’s album track listings can you go through and find every single track to be genuine and emotive music that any breathing being can relate to. Pick any song from any album and it will take you through various emotional experiences like contempt, love, gratitude, the see-saw between grief and unbridled, indulgent joy. I find their music to be most encyclopaedic, all-encompassing. Their music does what music is supposed to do. 

I do adore The Beatles too, but I love this band SO MUCH that I almost feel apologetic to have included anybody else in this post. They are the elixir of life. Also, declaring a rule here: No talking when Pink Floyd’s playing. 

Forgive me, but there’s one bad thing about this song. It ends.

6. Wish you were here – Pink Floyd

You know that feeling when you miss someone, not in a poignant way, but with a lot of gratification in your heart? This is for when the memories of someone you lost bring a joyous smile to your face even if you have tears in your eyes. 

It’s just beautiful. The track opens up with a distant chord progression, as though it’s emanating from a car stereo. The sound crackles and pops, and when a second guitar swoops into the mix, the disparity between both parts is thrown into sharp relief. The second guitar sounds more clean while the first sounds like a pale shadow of what it must’ve sounded like when it was originally recorded.

7. Stormy monday – T-bone walker

Monday’s bad but Wednesdays are the worst because you’re worn out already and Saturday’s still too far. 

The sound in the video above is cleaner, but for some reason, I actually like this live version more.

8. The Sky Is Crying – Elmore James

What a grand mess the world is in today. 

I have linked the Elmore James version above because he was the original artist who recorded this song, but I happened to stumble upon Stevie Ray Vaughan’s interpretation accidentally, and to be honest, I liked the latter more. Sweet accidents. 

9. Ode to a Sunny Day – Blackstratblues

If I had to choose just one track to listen to for the rest of my life, it’d be this beautiful piece.

This is a game changer. A friend introduced me to this Indian/Auckland-based artist, and I’ve been hooked since. This song has been my phone ringtone forever now, and I could imagine having this played at my funeral to (Warren)t peace, love and calmness. Err, this or Pink Floyd. How telling is this of BSB’s music. 

(This track isn’t available on Spotify, so I’ve included a bonus track to the Spotify playlist. It’s called ‘North Star’ and is from a different album. That too beautifully sits with the theme of anxiety-respite. Ode to a sunny day was written when the songwriter was himself going through a low-period, but let me give you a trigger warning about North Star – It may push some listeners deeper into their worries, while Ode to a sunny day on the other hand is beautifully uplifting.)

10. Blackbird – The Beatles

Okay, first of all, how lucky is the audience in this video to have McCartney perform so up-close. Like, how even! 

Anyone who’d listen to this, would want to know what the song and the black bird signifies. I did some digging too. So, since composing this track, McCartney has given various statements regarding both his inspiration for the song and its meaning. In one of these scenarios, he has said he was inspired by hearing the call of a blackbird one morning when the Beatles were studying transcendental meditation in Rishikesh, India. In another, he recalls writing it in Scotland as a response to racial tensions escalating in the United States during the spring of 1968. In 2018, McCartney further elaborated on the song’s meaning, explaining that “blackbird” should be interpreted as “black girl”, in the context of the civil rights troubles in southern 1960s US. 

Whatever the genesis in McCartney’s mind, the song never fails to inspire.

 11. What a wonderful world – Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong was called to heaven to sing this song for the angels. 

Interesting trivia about this song – The song was not initially a hit in the United States, where it sold fewer than 1,000 copies because ABC Records Sales Manager Larry Newton hated the song. He did not like or promote it,but was a major success in the United Kingdom, reaching number one on the UK Singles Chart. Despite backlash from the execs, the song exists because the songwriters and producers Bob Thiele and George David Weiss believed in Armstrong’s ability to bring people of different races together. 

The song’s magic comes from the depth of Armstrong’s performance. It celebrates life, but it’s bluesy. Armstrong’s voice carries with it the knowledge of why we sing such songs. Life is not always wonderful, and Armstrong reminds us of the tragic as he sings of the blessings. This song was recorded in 1967. This was when the US was a lot more fractured as a nation with intense, sometimes violent struggles over issues such as Civil Rights, descrimination based on skin colour, etc.

12. Let it be – The Beatles

No sad backstory required for this. It’s an anthem, so listen to it whenever and it will make sense. 

This song apparently came to Paul McCartney in a dream about his deceased mother. The “mother Mary” mentioned in the song is his mother Mary, not the biblical Mary as many people assume. John Lennon reportedly hated the religious atmosphere of the song. When I found out that McCartney’s mum’s name was Mary, the song made much more sense to me.

Lots of love, reader. Thanks for stopping by.



svg17 min read


  • Rohit

    September 13, 2020 at 9:37 am

    Great playlist! Singing (or shouting) along can also be a great release of tension, and karaoke is very enjoyable for some people like me!

  • Roger S Marshall

    September 13, 2020 at 9:41 am

    That’s a great list! Music therapy is a big thing here. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in intensive care rooms with family members, as well as the patient, and I’ll be playing and all of a sudden I’ll see tears start pouring down the faces of family members. I know that it’s the music that’s allowed them to express those intense feelings at this time where words may have been awkward.

Leave a reply