Can music help with anxiety
How Music Reduces Stress & Anxiety
This article is brought to you as part of the ASCAP Wellness Program.
Odds are you’ve felt stressed lately, between the pandemic, work burnout, social anxiety and more. But you’re not alone: About a fifth of American adults report high levels of psychological distress due to the pandemic and its impact on their physical, emotional and financial health, according to 2021 data from Pew Research Center.
But what is stress, exactly? On a biological level, your body responds to stressful situations by releasing hormones like cortisol, says Tim Ringgold, M.T.-B.C., a music therapist with New Method Wellness and the author of Sonic Recovery: Harness the Power of Music to Stay Sober. In physically threatening situations, like if you’re being chased by an angry bear, cortisol is helpful: It triggers a fight or flight response in your nervous system to help you escape the bear in one piece. But in the case of socio-emotional threats like work burnout, a breakup, or an ongoing pandemic, your body releases those stress hormones chronically. Ringgold explains that excess cortisol not only makes you feel anxious mentally, but can also lead to physical problems like excessive inflammation and compromised immune system function.
Interestingly, music can help mitigate these effects and help keep stress and anxiety in check. Studies have found that listening to music can help calm your nervous system and lower cortisol levels, both of which can help reduce stress. And the same goes for making music; research shows that creating can help release emotion, decrease anxiety and improve overall mental health.
1. Music Triggers Pleasure
Excess cortisol fuels your stress levels, and music can help keep them in check. Research shows that cortisol production decreases when you listen to music, which Ringgold says can help take the edge off of that fight-or-flight response.
Music also helps boost feel-good chemicals in your brain. “When we listen to music, or we make music, the reward center of our brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with reward and motivation,” says Ringgold. “This pleasure response is our brain’s way of saying, ‘Do that again!’”
2. Music Takes Your Nervous System Down a Beat
Not only can music calm your nervous system via your hormones, but it can also help ease stress by influencing your biological processes. For instance, the tempo of the music you’re listening to can automatically slow down or speed up your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing, says Ringgold. That’s why he recommends listening to slow music (60 to 80 BPM) if you’re feeling anxious: The relaxed tempo will help moderate your body’s functioning to bring you down from that heightened nervous state. “The brain releases pleasure chemicals, and the body slows its rhythms,” he notes. “It’s like a two for one.”
3. Music Is an Emotional Release
Creating music can be an effective way to express compressed energy or emotions, says Ringgold. This is especially important when you’re experiencing a prolonged fight-or-flight state, which can cause uncomfortable symptoms like a fast heart rate, tense muscles and sweating. When stress can’t be expressed solely through language, explains Ringgold, the physical and mental act of making music can allow you to get those feelings out of your body and mind.
4. Music Grounds You in the Present
Stress is often the result of ruminating over something that’s happened in the past or worrying about the future, both of which can make you feel like you lack control, says Ringgold. How do you get that feeling of control back? He suggests moving to the music, whether that’s literally dancing or just tapping, snapping or clapping along to the beat.
“The mind prefers to focus on situations where it has some semblance of control,” he explains. “The only place in time this occurs is in the present because that is where our bodies are, and we at least have some control over our bodies.”
5. Music Distracts from Stressors
While grounding yourself in the present moment can be a helpful way to overcome anxiety about the past or future, it might not feel so good if the source of your stress is happening in the here and now. But popping on a playlist can help, says Ringgold. “Because music cognition is so complex for the human brain, it offers an easy distraction or diversion from any competing internal or external stress stimuli,” he explains. “Since music triggers a pleasure response, our brain is all too happy to focus on a music signal to the exclusion of anything else.”
Why? Ringgold says music gives you a closed-ended respite from the present moment, meaning the song or album you’re listening to has a straightforward beginning and end. That stands in contrast to other, more stress-provoking forms of distraction like social media, where there’s no limit to the content.
6. Music Fosters Creativity
When you’re stressed, your nervous system shifts out of creative mode and into reactive mode to either fight or flee a perceived threat. Creating music coerces your nervous system to reset back to its default “rest-and-digest” mode, which Ringgold says allows for relaxation, clarity, and creativity.
7. Music Facilitates Connection
Isolation has been a major source of stress for many during the pandemic. Creating and listening to music can help combat some of that loneliness-induced anxiety, Ringgold says. This can be as simple as enjoying music alongside strangers at a concert, or as involved as forming a relationship with a new collaborator to create music together.
“When we play music alone, we connect to the music,” Ringgold says. “When we play music with others, we connect to them by proxy. One voice, one melody, one rhythm, all connected in the present moment.”
How Music Can Help Reduce Stress and Ease Anxiety and Depression
Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors
Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 01, 2021
In this Article
- Benefits of Music
- Tips to Use Music to Improve Your Well-Being
- Limits of Music as a Mood Booster
If you’ve ever released stress by dancing around your room to your favorite tunes or enjoyed a good cry with the help of a touching love song, you know how powerful music can be. It can lift you up when you’re low and calm you down when you’re anxious.
Music is a powerful tool for mood regulation and stress. The best part is, it’s always available to anyone who needs it.
Benefits of Music
Whether you’re on edge or need a boost, even just one song can bring you back to a more even and healthy place. When it comes to your mental health, music can:
Help you rest better. A study involving students found that listening to relaxing classical music at bedtime improved sleep quality. This activity was also associated with decreased signs of depression.
Lift your mood. Research shows that listening to happier music can make you feel happier, especially if you try to lift your mood while listening. There’s also evidence that formal music therapy can help with depression when used alongside other therapies.
Reduce stress. If you’re feeling anxious or stressed, calming music can help to settle your mind. Several studies have shown that when people undergoing surgery hear calming music, they have lower blood pressure and need less pain medication than those who don’t listen to soothing music.
You don’t have to be preparing for surgery to calm yourself with music, though. Simply listening to music can decrease your blood pressure, lower your levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and reduce your heart rate.
Tips to Use Music to Improve Your Well-Being
Music therapists can help you find ways to use music for your mental health. This type of therapist learns how to use music-making and listening to help people understand and process their emotions. Like traditional mental health counseling, music therapy is customized to the needs of the client.
But you don't necessarily need a therapist. You can also use music on your own to improve your mental well-being:
Listen to relaxing music. The best music for stress reduction is the kind that works for you. If you’re not sure where to start, look for music that plays at about 60 beats per minute. Researchers say that this tempo is best for encouraging the alpha brainwaves that signal a relaxed and conscious mind.
Most streaming services have meditation tracks set at this tempo. Many people also find that Celtic, Native American, and Indian string or flute music tends to have a calming effect.
Express yourself with a beat. You don’t need to be a trained musician to make music. Anyone can grab a rhythm instrument like a drum or rain stick and create beats that are mournful, angry, joyful, or excited.
Try this music therapy technique: By yourself or with a few friends, get some rhythm instruments and create the sounds of a storm. Let the storm become more and less intense, raging for a while and then backing down to a calmer state. Create rhythms that express emotions you’ve been feeling. If you’d like you can talk about those feelings after the improvised storm has passed.
Write a song. The concept of songwriting can scare people away if they feel like the song won’t be “good.” Remember that when you use music therapeutically, it doesn’t matter what other people think of it. They never even have to hear it.
If you feel stuck, start with a song that you already know. Let the melody inspire you to write lyrics that express how you feel. Sing it into your phone and play it back. Hearing your own feelings reflected back to you is an important part of healing through music.
Create a mood playlist. If you’re feeling down, anxious, or upset, find a track that expresses how you feel. Feel those emotions and let the lyrics resonate with you. Then, gradually shift your listening choices so that the music takes you into a happier or calmer place. This is a popular technique used by music therapists.
Limits of Music as a Mood Booster
Matching music to your current mood can feel validating, but it can also keep you stuck in a negative emotional state — if you let it.
You can still listen to a sad song when you’re upset or let out your anger to some heavy metal. Just be mindful of where it’s taking you and shift into something different if you feel yourself getting stuck.
It’s also important to consider that while music can be a powerful tool for regulating and shifting your emotions, it's not a substitute for mental health treatment. If you have distressing emotional experiences that interfere with your ability to function, consider talking to a licensed mental health professional.
Are you worried? Listen to “your” music
Over the past decades, doctors have noted an increase in anxiety in the world, especially among young people, including adolescents. And recent events in Europe will only strengthen this trend. It is necessary to fight this destructive tendency, and, as Canadian scientists have recently shown, a very simple thing can help in this - listening to music
the most frequent experiences of people in critical situations, and at a certain level it has adaptive functions: it warns of a threat and mobilizes human reserves (Solovyeva, 2012). nine0003
In contrast to this emotion, anxiety is considered as an individual feature, a permanent property of the personality, associated with a low threshold for the occurrence of an anxiety reaction. Anxiety often accompanies neuropsychiatric and psychosomatic disorders, as well as a variety of psychological problems. It is not surprising, therefore, that anxiety-depressive syndrome is one of the most frequent types of emotional disorders.
Today, there are many ways to treat anxiety, from taking anxiolytics (anti-anxiety drugs) to a variety of techniques from the arsenal of psychologists. However, the results of their application are often ambiguous. The same applies to the use of music, although it is known that many people listen to their favorite music to improve their mood.
In principle, music can reduce anxiety by changing the neurochemical characteristics of the brain - increasing the level of neurotransmitters dopamine and endorphins or reducing the level of the stress hormone cortisol . These properties of music can probably be enhanced if you choose it according to the emotional state of a person.
Recently, scientists from Ryerson University (Canada) once again tried to answer the question: how does music affect mood? In their experiment, they used the LUCID music recommendation service, which, using artificial intelligence technology, helps create personalized music selections (instrumental music and nature sounds) that control emotions. To do this, the person himself enters the parameters of his current and target emotional state, and the algorithm predicts the optimal sequence of tracks. At the same time, the latter is able to learn by comparing the characteristics of musical passages with the emotional reactions of the listeners. nine0003
The study involved 163 patients with anxiety disorders, which differed in varying degrees of anxiety: from moderate to high. During the experiment, which lasted 24 minutes, some subjects listened to personalized music using LUCID , others listened to it plus sound waves in the theta frequency range (4–7 Hz), which can reduce anxiety, or only theta - waves. The control group listened to the so-called pink noise , which is similar to white noise , but with less high frequencies.
As a result, people with moderate anxiety demonstrated its reduction when listening to appropriate music, including in combination with theta waves. At the same time, somatic symptoms characteristic of anxiety, such as a high respiratory rate and pulse rate, sweating, etc., decreased in them. This physiological effect may have been partly due to the slow tempo of the music picked up by Service LUCID .
However, the effect was less pronounced in participants with high anxiety. It is possible that the music session was simply too short for them.
The results of this work confirm that personalized music therapy is a simple and effective way to reduce anxiety - at least for some. Scientists hope that in the future it will be possible to create a solid evidence base that will allow it to be used in the treatment of anxiety. nine0003
How music conquers anger, fights anxiety and increases productivity
, others will weep as they listen to Chopin's nocturnes or Simon and Garfunkel's Sound of Silence. In the series “sex, drugs and rock and roll”, the last term remains the most underestimated in terms of changing the human psyche. And in vain. At 19In the 1980s, the 7-Eleven supermarket chain in Canada came up with a way to drive idly youth out of their parking lots: turn on not trendy music in this space, but classical or easy-listening. Teenagers could not stand the "old-fashioned" melodies and left.
Decades later, the stunt was repeated in the New Zealand town of Christchurch to scare off juvenile delinquents. True, instead of classical music they used hits by Barry Manilow. History also remembers how Israeli forces tried to get terrorists out of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, including with the help of heavy metal. And the Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, according to one version, surrendered to the American troops also because he, an opera fan, could not stand the sounds of the incessant aggressive music of Black Sabbath, Whitesnake and AC / DC, which was part of the plan of the American group of psychological operations. nine0003
Medicine is another area where music is actively used. Neuroscientist Gottfried Schlaug of Harvard University has pioneered "melodic intonation therapy" that is showing amazing results: patients with speech impairment after a stroke cannot say a three-word sentence, but they can sing, for example, their favorite song by The Rolling Stones. The documentary Living Inside, directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett, tells how in an American nursing home, patients with Alzheimer's disease and other memory disorders listen to music from the past and get better. nine0003
Still from the film Living Inside
Today, psychotherapists make individual playlists for sessions with patients, and surgeons know that jazz promotes recovery after operations. Basic techniques of music therapy can be used independently to correct the mood here and now.
To relieve pain, listen to your favorite music instead of relaxing music
Researchers at the Caledonian University of Glasgow have shown that the right music can reduce physical pain. Moreover, in this case, it is not relaxing melodies that work most effectively, but music that a person is used to listening to before the onset of pain. In other words, if you prefer hardcore rap, your therapy should include it, and not the sounds of nature and melodies for meditation. A participant in this experiment, a fan of Prodigy, chose the Firestarter track - and was able to stay in cold water five times longer than usual, despite muscle cramps. This fact also explains why running long distances or training on a stationary bike is easier if you work out to your favorite music, even if it is not very energetic. As Kanye West says, every superhero needs his theme music (“every superhero needs his own theme music”). nine0003
Turn on classical music at 60 beats per minute to fall asleep.
Music promotes relaxation, slows breathing and heart rate, according to researchers from the Hungarian Institute of Behavioral Sciences. In their experiment, they proved that if you listen to classical music 45 minutes before bedtime, you will fall asleep faster. Melodies in this case should not excite to goosebumps, but rather be an auxiliary background. The optimal frequency is 60 beats per minute. Composer, scientist and author of the book Why We Love Music - about the influence of music on areas of our lives - advises falling asleep to the melodies of lutenists. You can start with Nigel North's cantabile. nine0003
It would not be superfluous to add to the playlist for falling asleep the albums of Kendrick Lamar, Zemfira and other favorite musicians listened to dozens of times. Familiar melodies have the same calming effect as classical music. The structure of the songs is predictable and does not require active participation from the listener, so you can just relax.
Scientists also took part in the development of melodies for sleep. For example, recently a group of neuroscientists helped British DJ Tom Middleton record an album that relieves insomnia. According to them, the tracks Sunset, Ocean, Moon, Stars and Space help lower blood pressure and, as a result, successfully fall asleep. The Better Sleep album is already available for download on Apple Music. nine0003
To deal with anger, have an aggressive playlist on hand
Extreme music is a healthy way to work off anger. This conclusion was made by scientists at the University of Queensland Australia after the experiment. Although heavy metal, hardcore punk, screamo, and growling may be associated with anarchy, crime, and satanism, in terms of mental hygiene, these musical styles are even useful when a person is feeling angry or angry. Ignoring or drowning out the temporary states of our emotional system is not only pointless, but also harmful. This is where extreme music comes to the rescue, which “survives” anger, reducing internal emotional stress. The results of a study published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience showed that ten minutes of heavy metal and hardcore punk during an outburst of anger reduced levels of hostility and irritability. However, ten minutes of silence give the same effect. But if in the case of aggressive music anger is worked out, then in silence anger is simply ignored, which, according to psychologists, is harmful: a person turns a negative emotion on himself, and this will most likely lead to a new breakdown. nine0003
Protect yourself from the music you love and hate to be more productive.
Employees work better when background music is played, as has been proven over fifty years ago. True, among the subjects were workers of the conveyor plant, during the working day performing the same tasks. But the rule still applies today when we are not talking about creative processes, but about repetitive tasks. If you need to answer all of the hundreds of incoming letters with a concise “ok”, then it will be faster to do it to the music. It is important that it be neutral. Scientists note that if workers listen to tunes that they like, they are much more likely to be distracted. The same effect is given by music, which is unpleasant. nine0003
When it comes to original work tasks, science still has no definitive advice on how to increase productivity. The Google Scholar system stores more than three hundred thousand scientific studies on this topic. Some say that surgeons work more efficiently if music plays in the background during operations, others believe that it is important to listen to melodies without words, others advise listening to works of the Baroque era. Recent studies have even raised silence on the shield: you need to listen to music before starting work, and also put on headphones for 15 minutes every two to three hours. nine0003
Turn on ambient to beat anxiety
“You ask, why should I listen to incomprehensible sounds when I can enjoy Drake? Because the ambient music helps me find peace when I am overcome with anxiety and panic attacks,” says Vice editor Ryan Bassil, who has suffered from attacks of fear, panic and anxiety since childhood. He went to a psychotherapist, did cooking, which, according to one version, lowers the level of the stress hormone, meditated, decorated the house with plants and candles, but he found the real salvation from panic attacks thanks to the album “Ambient 1: Music for Airports” by Brian Eno. Ryan's example is not exceptional. nine0003
Tests conducted by the American Music Therapy Association have shown that listening to ambient music actually reduces the level of cortisol (stress hormone) in the body, and the heart rate returns to normal.