Music for stress reduction

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.

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.”

Relaxing Piano Music, Stress Relief Music, Relax Music, Meditation Music, Piano Sounds, Soft, Black Samurai Grand Piano

Black Samurai Grand Piano

  • Released on 9/6/21 by Black Piano Classic Records
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