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What Learning To Drum Taught Me About Anxiety (Part 2)

What Learning To Drum Taught Me About Anxiety (Part 2)We have this drum kit in the basement now, and just for fun, I sat down. And I tried to play.

And I became woefully frustrated — no surprise there, if you read yesterday’s post about my coordination-related woes when it comes to drumming.

But this time, I kept playing around. I yelled at my right hand for moving when I wanted my left hand to move instead. Slowly, it began to comply.

That was two weeks ago.

And now, today, I can keep a beat — a very simple beat, yes, but this is a notable change for me. With concentration and practice, my brain adapted to the idea of my right foot on a kick drum and my left hand tapping a snare.

No longer does the kick drum kick when I want to tap the snare; no longer does the snare make that, uh, “snare” sound when I want to kick the kick drum.

My limbs, it seems, have resolved their life-long impasse with my brain.


I know, I know. I’m getting there — promise!

So, why do these drumming revelations matter to me? Well, for starters, I think it’s pretty damn fun to now say that I can keep a simple beat on a basic drum kit. I can drag my laptop down to the basement, play any of my favorite songs, and pass the time by drumming along in a really rudimentary-yet-satisfying way.

And, of course, I’m pretty pleased with myself for trying something new and sticking with it for long enough to get past the “I HATE THIS!” hump.

But most importantly, this reminds me of something very important: the brain’s capability to learn and change.

It’s been awhile since I’ve learned a new skill. I mean, I learn things all the time when I read or watch documentaries — I learn facts. And of course I learn skills here and there nowadays, like (to draw an example from this past summer) how to light and release a Chinese lantern into the night sky.

Or how to hang mini-blinds all over my new house.

Or how to use a sewing machine to make a million pillows for my living room.

But something about this whole drum thing felt different: I could truly feel a huge difference in my before-and-after skill level. Something in my brain had changed. New neural pathways had been created.

Hmm — new neural pathways. If I can learn drums, then can’t I learn anxiety-management techniques in the same way?


I mean, books and therapists and the internet have always told me of the wonders of neuroplasticity.

But I never really internalized the concept. Oh, you’re telling me that if I go home and spin around on a chair every night I’ll eventually overcome my fear of dizziness? Yeah, okay. Sounds adorable. I’ll try it for a day or two until I can’t stand the nausea anymore and then I’ll come back into session feeling deflated.

But now, I’m feeling a bit more hopeful.

If just two weeks of drumming around in my basement could take me from woodblock-ready to “maybe-I-can-drum-a-simple-Strokes-song”-ready, what can two weeks of truly intense exposure therapy, behavioral therapy, or cognitive therapy do for me?

Can practice really make perfect when it comes to overcoming anxiety?

Have you learned a new skill lately? Do you think your own brain could learn anxiety management techniques in the same way?

Photo: Ross Beckley (Flickr)

What Learning To Drum Taught Me About Anxiety (Part 2)

Summer Beretsky

Summer Beretsky enjoys writing about her experiences with anxiety, panic, and Paxil. She had her first panic attack as an undergrad at Lycoming College and plenty more while she worked toward her M.A. in Communication from the University of Delaware. She contributes to the World of Psychology blog here on PsychCentral and has written for the Los Angeles Times. You can follow her on Twitter @summerberetsky.

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APA Reference
Beretsky, S. (2013). What Learning To Drum Taught Me About Anxiety (Part 2). Psych Central. Retrieved on May 31, 2020, from


Last updated: 23 Sep 2013
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