How music reduces stress

Releasing Stress Through the Power of Music | Counseling Services

Music can have a profound effect on both the emotions and the body. Faster music can make you feel more alert and concentrate better. Upbeat music can make you feel more optimistic and positive about life. A slower tempo can quiet your mind and relax your muscles, making you feel soothed while releasing the stress of the day. Music is effective for relaxation and stress management.

Research confirms these personal experiences with music. Current findings indicate that music around 60 beats per minute can cause the brain to synchronize with the beat causing alpha brainwaves (frequencies from 8 - 14 hertz or cycles per second). This alpha brainwave is what is present when we are relaxed and conscious. To induce sleep (a delta brainwave of 5 hertz), a person may need to devote at least 45 minutes, in a relaxed position, listening to calming music. Researchers at Stanford University have said that "listening to music seems to be able to change brain functioning to the same extent as medication. " They noted that music is something that almost anybody can access and makes it an easy stress reduction tool.

So what type of music reduces stress the best? A bit surprising is that Native American, Celtic, Indian stringed-instruments, drums, and flutes are very effective at relaxing the mind even when played moderately loud. Sounds of rain, thunder, and nature sounds may also be relaxing particularly when mixed with other music, such as light jazz, classical (the "largo" movement), and easy listening music. Since with music we are rarely told the beats per minute, how do you choose the relaxation music that is best for you? The answer partly rests with you: You must first like the music being played, and then it must relax you. You could start by simply exploring the music on this web page. Some may relax you, some may not. Forcing yourself to listen to relaxation music that irritates you can create tension, not reduce it. If that happens, try looking for alternatives on the internet or consult with Counseling Service staff for other musical suggestions. It is important to remember that quieting your mind does not mean you will automatically feel sleepy. It means your brain and body are relaxed, and with your new calm self, you can then function at your best in many activities.

The links below each open relaxing musical selections in YouTube.

A Moment of Peace Meditation
Aneal & Bradfield, "Heaven and Earth Spirits" track from Life & Love). Lovely contemporary piano music with accompanying instruments and nature scenes.

Echoes of Time
C. Carlos Nakai from the Canyon Trilogy. Serene Native American flute music, with a picture of Nakai backlit by the sun at the Grand Canyon.

The Winding Path
Ken Kern from The Winding Path. Highly rated, beautiful piano music with accompanying instruments with pictures of exquisite flowers and plants.

Classical Indian Music for Healing and Relaxing
Gayatri Govindarajan, "Pure Deep Meditation" track. Lovely and rhythmic music played on the veena, the most ancient of the Indian plucked-instruments, with nature scenes.

Angels of Venice
Angels of Venice from Music for Harp, Flute and Cello. Classical with 3 instruments with nature pictures.

Earth Drum
"Spirit Vision," (David & Steve Gordon. Serene and lovely contemporary Native American informed-drumming music utilizing Taos Log Drum and Incan Pan along with other instruments and ocean/forest nature scenes.

Buddha Spirit
Aneal & Bradfield from Light & Love. Reflective but strong contemporary music utilizing various instruments and occasional humming voices with colorful oscillating fractals

Spa Relaxing Music
Tranquil contemporary instrumental with piano and a fixed candle light.

Relaxation Music: 1-Hour Meditation Candle
Serene contemporary instrumental with piano and one flickering candle.

Sleep Deeply
Dan Gibson. Nature sounds and instrumental, tranquil sleep music.

Marconi Union. The sounds on this video are carefully arranged harmonies, rhythms, and bass lines that help slow a listener's heart rate, reduce blood pressure, and lower levels of the cortisol stress hormone.

Can Listening to Music Reduce Stress? Research, Benefits, and Genres

Listening to your favorite music may have more health benefits than you realize. Here’s how songs can reduce stress and help you heal.

It’s not until we forget our headphones that we realize just how much we rely on music to help us through the day. Our favorite music seems capable of pumping us up before an important moment, calming us down when we’re upset, and just about anything in between.

But is there actually a scientific explanation for this? As it turns out, yes!

Music has been widely studied and revered throughout human history for its ability to both entertain and heal. Countless experts have investigated how listening to music can potentially have therapeutic effects on a range of mental and physical health conditions, or just as a way to cope with everyday life.

Contemporary research suggests music has significant power to help reduce stress and anxiety, relieve pain, and improve focus among many more benefits.

Stress — the feeling of emotional tension, overwhelm, or feeling unable to cope — affects us mentally and physically.

Stress has a biological impact that causes your body to release specific hormones and chemicals that activate your brain in certain ways. For example, when we are highly stressed, our heart rate and blood pressure can go up, and our adrenal gland begins producing cortisol, also known as “the stress hormone.”

Short term, cortisol can help us find the focus and energy we need to deal with a difficult situation, but when the body is exposed to excess cortisol for a prolonged period of time, it causes perpetual, exhausting states of fight, flight, or freeze. Ongoing or chronic stress can lead to developing an anxiety disorder, depression, chronic pain, and more.

Across time and space, music has had tremendous success as a tool for stress relief. While some types of music such as classical and ambient have long been studied for their calming effects, listening to your personal favorite music of any genre also has benefits.

A 2020 overview of research into music and stress suggests that listening to music can:

  • lower our heart rate and cortisol levels
  • release endorphins and improve our sense of well-being
  • distract us, reducing physical and emotional stress levels
  • reduce stress-related symptoms, whether used in a clinical environment or in daily life

How does music affect your brain?

As of 2019, the average hearing person across the world listened to 18 hours of music a week! This number is likely to be even higher in 2021.

So what is music actually doing to us during those hours we listen to it?

Well, here’s a super simple breakdown:

  • Music sounds move through our ears as vibrations.
  • The inner ear translates these vibrations into electrical signals.
  • Neurons transmit these signals to certain areas of the cerebral cortex in the brain.
  • Dedicated regions of the brain detect the different elements of the signals (like the tone, pitch, rhythm).
  • As the brain puts together all of this information so that you can sense the musical experience, it can influence our emotions and bodily systems, which is why scientists are so interested in studying it!

Most investigations into music’s health effects center on its ability to calm us down and relieve stress. In recent years, this research has expanded in exciting and surprising new directions.

Some recent findings include the following:

  • Reduced cortisol levels. A recent 2021 study showed that adults who listened to both personal and neutral selections of music, at home and in a laboratory environment, had significantly “reduced cortisol levels.” This was found regardless of the music type.
  • Benefits in mental health treatments. An overview of 349 studies on music’s usefulness as a mental health treatment for conditions including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression, found that 68.5% of music-based interventions had positive results.
  • Reduced burnout. Music therapy also had significant benefit in preventing burnout in operating room staff. A 6-week study showed that after having access to 30-minute music listening sessions each day at work for a month, staff reported decreased stress levels and less emotional exhaustion.
  • Helps you fall asleep. 62% of respondents to a 2018 survey reported they use music (from multiple genres) to help them fall asleep, mostly because it relaxed them, and distracted them from daily stressors. People who used music less were more likely to have lower quality sleep.
  • Reduced depression. Music listening or music therapy reduced depression levels, according to a 2017 review, and was associated with increased confidence and motivation, especially in group settings.
  • Reduced anxiety in children. A 2021 review of articles from 2009 to 2019 showed that music significantly reduced anxiety for children leading up to and during medical procedures.
  • Helps people cope with the pandemic. A survey of over 5,600 people from 11 countries demonstrated that music has played a very important role during the COVID-19 pandemic in helping people cope during lockdown, and meet their well-being goals across culture, age, and gender lines.
  • Improved quality of life with Alzheimer’s disease. Especially when tried in the form of personal playlists for relaxation, research showed that music interventions can have positive effects on the behavior and cognition of people with Alzheimer’s disease, improving quality of life.

Meditation is an ancient tradition that is practiced in cultures all over the world and is an integral part of some religions and types of yoga. There are many types of mediation, and people use some types to help treat mental and physical health conditions.

Usually, meditation aims to focus, center, calm, or direct your attention. It can also help relax our bodies. So it can pair well with music for some people.

Often, music used for meditation has a slow tempo, which can reduce heart rate, and also lower anxiety and stress levels. Guided meditation involves music with a narrator or speaker that directs your energy flow and focus, or offers positive affirmations.

Music therapy is different from just listening to music, although listening is a big part of it!

Music therapists work with a variety of patients of all ages. Like other forms of therapy, including art therapy, music therapists plan individualized sessions to help you meet your goals.

Music therapy can include goal-oriented music listening, playing and composing music, and songwriting, among other activities. These kinds of “purposeful” interactions with music can help you work through emotions or issues that are bothering you, encourage positive feelings, and even assist with speech or physical therapy.

A 2015 study compared the effects of music therapy with a therapist versus music medicine (where music was played without a therapist) among people with cancer. Even though all music listening showed positive results, 77% of patients preferred music therapy sessions to just listening to music on their own.

Research shows that music can help relieve both chronic pain and post-operative pain:

  • Research shows that listening to “self-chosen, pleasant, familiar music” reduced pain in people with fibromyalgia.
  • According to a small-scale 2017 study, listening to music in headphones while under local or general anesthesia can lower cortisol levels during surgery, and decrease post-op pain and stress.

How does it work? Scientists believe the effect may result from music actually shifting brain activity away from pain-related connectivity patterns, as well as creating positive emotions, and offering a distraction.

Music isn’t just limited to helping with physical pain. Stress causes emotional and psychological pain as well, which music can help alleviate.

Maybe you’ve found yourself searching for “study playlists” on Spotify or YouTube. Well, it turns out there’s a reason why millions of other people stream these playlists too!

Listening to music has been shown to improve focus on certain tasks, especially if the task is more complex. Music may also help sharpen our brain’s ability to recall information and make connections.

In one recent experiment, participants were asked to press a button anytime the hand on a special clock started moving. The authors found that when people listened to their preferred background music while doing this “low-demanding sustained-attention task,” their minds wandered less, and they were more focused, compared to those without music.

Anxiety, stress, and pain often hang out together. Music may be one way to help manage them and their troublemaking.

As some of the previously discussed research indicates, music can help reduce anxiety in both adults and children before and during medical procedures.

In one study of over 950 critically ill patients, 30 minutes of music therapy a day was consistently associated with lower rates of anxiety and stress. Music’s ability to decrease biological stress responses like heart rate and cortisol levels also helps tackle anxiety.

The sympathetic and parasympathetic parts of your central nervous system are involuntary or automatic, meaning they work without you having to think about them.

Doctors may refer to the parasympathetic side as “rest and digest,” since it takes care of things when the body is at rest, while sympathetic is “fight or flight,” in charge of the body in motion.

When we are thrown into a stressful situation, it’s hard to calm back down and stay grounded. Deep breathing is one way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system to move back into “rest and digest.”

One study shows that some types of music may also be a way to reactivate the parasympathetic nervous system quicker following a period of increased heart rate, like after exercising.

Certain genres of lyric-less music, like classical and ambient, are historically the subject of most research studies into music and stress. While there’s evidence that they can reduce stress and anxiety, that doesn’t mean they’re “better” than other genres of music.

For many of the studies mentioned in this article, music listening involved multiple genres or songs chosen by both the participants and the researchers. In fact, the American Music Therapy Association states that “All styles of music can be useful in effecting change in a client or patient’s life.”

We also use different kinds of music for different purposes. Since we all have special relationships with our favorite songs and genres, we can use those to invoke certain emotions and feelings unique to that relationship. For example:

  • Classical music is associated with a soothing, calming effect.
  • Rap music can be inspiring and motivating when in a low mood or dealing with difficult life circumstances.
  • Heavy metal music can “enhance identity development” and help you become better-adjusted.

Musicians, researchers, and music therapists have actually claimed to create “the most relaxing” song ever, called “Weightless. ” But you’ll have to decide for yourself.

Listening to your favorite music has more benefits than you realize. It’s also safe, cost-effective, and widely available.

Music is certainly not a magical cure, nor is it a substitute for therapy, medication, surgery, or any other medical treatments. But music can be an important element of your well-being and self-care on a daily basis, as well as a helpful partner in dealing with more acute health conditions.

Music listening, therapy, and interventions have many benefits like:

  • lowered stress and anxiety
  • better mood
  • reduced pain
  • improved sleep
  • sharpened focus or memory
  • relaxing your body and helping with meditation
  • assistance with speech or physical therapy
  • fostering community and a sense of togetherness

Research into music’s healing and stress-relieving properties is ongoing and sometimes with mixed results. But ultimately, perhaps the most important takeaway is: keep listening!

Why music reduces stress and helps to live

Indeed, music is something amazing and extraordinary. It can not only take us to paradise, calm even in the most difficult moments, give us strength when other means fail, but also unite us and eliminate differences. What a power!

Music and the brain - what happens when we listen to music

Melody, rhythm and harmony - musical language, used appropriately, causes specific reactions in our body. Pieces with a moderate tempo, a regular, monotonous rhythm and a simple harmonic texture soothe and regulate breathing. Sudden dynamic changes are frightening, harmonic inclusions make us anxious, minor melodies make us sad.

When we listen to music, our ears receive a huge amount of acoustic stimuli. The brain is responsible for processing them into emotional experiences. The sounds we hear can affect our mood, activity, happiness and pleasure. Sound waves stimulate the corresponding parts of the brain - epinephrine, norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine are released. The level of cortisol, the so-called stress hormone, decreases.

According to Eckart Altenmüller of the Institute for Musical Physiology and Musical Medicine in Hannover, the best composers knew the power of music well. Their ability to use musical language means that modern people still experience strong emotions - probably the same as in their time - when listening to the works of the old masters: tremors, laughter, tears, heart palpitations or "goosebumps". Interestingly, the researchers also showed that these emotions are very similar in every listener, regardless of nationality, origin, age, or gender. This demonstrates a kind of universality of the musical language.

Why you need to learn music

Music has been accompanying people since prehistoric times. This is one of the manifestations of human culture. She served for dances and religious rituals. He was listened to at the royal courts, for pleasure, for entertainment. She accompanied the words in the theater, told stories expressed by dance in ballet performances.

Today it fills the space around us almost continuously. The music in the film amplifies our emotions. The image, underlined by the corresponding melodic-harmonic layer, becomes stronger and clearer in its message. Musical motifs are so engraved in our memory that we can remember the scene from the film in our imagination when we hear the corresponding melody.

The situation is different with instrumental music. It does not give us ready-made solutions. It challenges our brain. Using familiar structures and experiences, the brain converts sound waves into emotional experiences. The more structures we know, the more tools we have, the richer they will be.

We learn this process from childhood. Songs for kids are initially not very complex, so that it is easier for a child to learn and highlight certain phrases and musical patterns. Over time, the complexity of the songs we listen to can—and should—increase. It depends on this whether we, adults, will be able to discover extraordinary values ​​in the works of great composers.

“If children only listen to so-called popular music, their brains will not have the opportunity to learn to look for and recognize patterns in more complex pieces. Without knowing how to do this, they will never learn to see the beauty hidden in the music of the greatest composers. You can only love what you understand,” writes Marzena Zylinska in her work “Music in the Brain”.

The more complex the music, the greater the load on the brain, which means the stronger its stimulation. Acoustic sensations not only affect our mood and overall concentration, but also stimulate our cognitive attention, the brain function responsible for processing and reinforcing intellectual content.

By not allowing our brain to get bored, we ensure the development of our intellectual potential, our sensitivity or creativity.

Why making music together is useful

“It is well known that singing in a choir is a unique opportunity to work with and on your voice, to work with your breath and your own body. This leads to increased awareness and self-confidence, which is always very valuable for the overall development of the child. But the choir is also a community in which you need to be able to find yourself, notice the existence of other people and respect their needs, while at the same time being able to take care of your own,” says Anna Bednarska, conductor and artistic director of the Alla Polacca choir.

When we sing, we convey feelings and emotions. Music stimulates the internal reward system and reduces stress. We give ourselves courage in difficult situations by singing our favorite songs. Singing together is soothing and promotes a sense of belonging to a larger group. Singing together in a choir or other form of group music builds group relationships, cooperation, and discipline. Group activities help develop creativity, show how important each link in the group is and how the work of an individual contributes to the achievement of a common goal. We become more responsible and sensitive to the needs of others. People who play music together release oxytocin, also known as the friendship hormone. This applies to both adults and children.

According to many neurologists, this is a very important but often underestimated aspect of school life that has a real impact on the effectiveness of the educational process. We learn more when we are motivated, when our brain associates learning with something positive and enjoyable. Children who participate in music classes learn more easily. They have a better memory, they are well organized and concentrate better. By singing, they gain self-confidence and learn to be systematic. It shapes their personality. Through music, they learn about other people, become sensitive, courageous and responsible.

You don't have to be a professional to listen to music. Similarly, you don't have to be a skilled singer to sing. Every person is born with a certain musical potential, which is either developed or, unfortunately, completely ignored in the later stages of life. Musicality lies dormant in each of us, sometimes we just need the right stimulus to discover it in ourselves. Understanding musical language requires patience and time. Gradually, the acoustic impressions become more complete, the sensations become deeper, the experience of the musical work becomes more important.

It's worth listening to music and it's worth making music together. The power of music builds relationships, connects people, stimulates, calms the nerves, brings relief, develops, nurtures, gives courage and makes our lives filled with values.

Also find out how music affects plants and animals.

The benefits of music - how to deal with stress

Music not only gives a good mood, but also takes care of the health and well-being of a person. It will be an excellent, and most importantly affordable for everyone, stress reliever, help improve memory and strengthen the cardiovascular system. This conclusion was made by the experts of the HealthSystem of NorthShore University.

The most obvious benefit of music is that it helps lift your spirits. Music activates biochemical processes that reduce stress and promote the production of the hormone dopamine. Dopamine is commonly referred to as the hormone of pleasure and motivation. However, it is also responsible for other important things: the expectation of happiness, our aspirations and desires, decision making, a normal perception of reality. In a word, music helps to think more positively.

Music properties. Photo: avtosreda

What kind of music should you listen to when you're stressed?

- rhythmic music helps to calm down and focus on something;

- compositions with Indian, Celtic, Indian strings, drums and flutes are effective for relaxation, even if played quite loudly;

- classical music or jazz in combination with the sounds of nature (rain, thunder, birdsong, etc. ) relieve stress during stress.

The most important thing scientists insist on is not to force yourself to listen to special "relaxing music" if you don't like it. It is better to listen to the tunes that you like and find your style.

But the fight against stress and bad mood is not the only miraculous property of music. On top of that, she:

Has a positive effect on the functioning of the heart

Music can lower heart rate, lower blood pressure and cortisol (the "stress hormone"), and increase blood levels of serotonin (the "pleasure hormone") and endorphins (responsible for feelings of pleasure) in the blood.

Relieves pain

Music does not replace painkillers, but by reducing stress, it can reduce pain.

Helps with some memory disorders

Music therapy does not cure Alzheimer's or dementia, but may relieve some symptoms by helping patients relax and improve their mood.

Makes training more effective

Most people enjoy listening to music while exercising - and rightly so. Music helps to increase physical performance and endurance during hard workouts. This is especially effective for activities that require a clear rhythm, such as running or exercising in the gym.

Helps not to overeat

At lunch, try playing slow music in the background - and you will involuntarily eat more slowly.

Learn more