In recent years, scientists all over the world have spent time evaluating the numerous benefits associated with music. According to an article from Lifehack, these range from improvements to mood and overall mental health, through to enhanced athletic performance. Nevertheless, one of the most intriguing benefits of music is its ability to reduce stress.
Amazingly, research suggests that this stress relief can be achieved regardless of whether you are listening to music, making music yourself, or attending live music concerts. In this blog post, we take a more in-depth look at the impact of music on stress and explore specific ways that you can use music to reduce your own stress levels.
1. Music in the Morning
A simple and effective way to reduce stress through music is to listen to it in the morning. This might mean putting the radio on while you are getting ready for work, or putting headphones on while you are still in bed. Crucially, doing so has the ability to improve your emotional response to stressful situations that subsequently come your way.
One of the most famous music studies to date was published by PLOS ONE. It measured women’s stress response after performing a speech in front of an audience. Prior to the stress test, some listened to calming music, some listened to nature sounds and some rested without sound. Cortisol levels and heart rates were measured and the group that had listened to music first returned to baseline values faster than the other groups, suggesting they coped better.
As a blog post for Pennsylvania State University points out, the rhythm and tone of music can have a significant bearing on your emotional response to it. For instance, listening to up-beat music can help you to feel energised, whereas slow, sad music has the opposite effect. This is, in part, because our heartbeat synchronises to the beat.
Therefore, by listening to upbeat music in the morning, you can not only help to reduce latent stress and improve your response to new sources of stress that follow, you can also give yourself a motivational boost as well. Additionally, putting music on during your morning commute can also help to reduce ‘road rage’ symptoms.
2. Playing an Instrument
While listening to music tends to be a passive activity, there are active methods that can help with stress reduction too. In fact, actually learning to play an instrument can have a major impact on your mental health and overall well-being.
Indeed, a variety of studies have shown that the benefits of music playing include reductions to stress levels, heart rate, blood pressure, anxiety and depression. It is believed that this is because the act of learning an instrument and maintaining proficiency is a challenging cognitive exercise, stimulating the brain and improving its functioning.
Further research has shown that the act of learning to play an instrument can also help you to process multiple things at once, which can ease a common source of stress, and can also assist with recovering from mental fatigue.
Taking up music as a hobby can provide plenty of challenges, like learning to read music. The Melody Scanner app can help with this by automatically transcribing your favourite songs into sheet music. There are a variety of options available to you, such as recording your own instrument, or transcribing music from MP3 files or YouTube videos.
3. Listening for Meditation
Listening to music for meditative purposes is another area where the positive impact of music on stress is clear. According to an article written for PsychCentral, the right music and right meditation activities can help to initiate the body’s relaxation response, combating stress. As you might expect, however, the choice of music plays a key role here.
Generally, it is important to listen to music that has a clear structure. Without this, the music can be jarring, interrupting your thought patterns as you meditate. Calming music works best and music without lyrics is preferable too. As the music should be an accompaniment, rather than the focus, it can help to select tunes you are familiar with.
The benefits of meditation build up over time, rather than being immediate, and it is something that you will need to do regularly to see long-lasting results. MRI scanning has demonstrated that in response to meditation, the amygdala section of the brain actually shrinks. This is the part of the brain that governs stress, anxiety and fear.
This shrinking helps to lower the effects that stress has on the body and the Headspace website states that this benefit can be achieved in as little as eight weeks of regular meditative practice.
4. Attending Music Concerts
Modern lifestyles can be hectic and it is important to take the time to blow off some steam and do the things you enjoy. With this in mind, actually attending live music concerts or performances from musicians you like can have a knock-on effect, helping to reduce accumulated stress from things like work or your home life.
While it may seem self-evident that doing things you enjoy will help to alleviate stress, there is also specific evidence supporting the claim that attending live music performances can lower stress levels.
A UK study, led by the Centre for Performance Science, tested 117 volunteers attending two different music concerts. Using saliva samples from before and after the concert, the researchers tested for cortisol and cortisone; indicators of stress. They found “across-the-board reductions” in the samples taken after concert attendance.
Crucially, the researchers also noted that the benefits of music for reducing stress were not dependent on familiarity with the music being performed. This is indicative of a universal response to attendance. So if you are invited to a concert by a friend, even if you are unfamiliar with the artist, it may still be beneficial to go.
5. Music Before Bed Time
Finally, one of the biggest areas where music can have a profound effect on stress levels and overall well-being is through helping to induce sleep. A number of studies have suggested that taking the time to relax and listen to music before bed can help with both short-term sleep quality and even to alleviate chronic sleep problems.
As an article for the University of Nevada in Reno points out, scientific findings indicate that calming music is best for this purpose and the beats-per-minute (BPM) matters. For the best results, you want to try to find music in the region of 60 BPM. Again, Melody Scanner can assist you with identifying tracks that meet this criteria.
The ideal practice here is to listen to the music in a calm setting for around 45 minutes, before heading off to bed. This will help to ensure your body is as relaxed as possible. The aforementioned article also points out that researchers from Stanford University believe the impact of music on brain function can be as significant as medicine.
However, there are some potential pitfalls to be aware of. For instance, a post for WebMD highlights the importance of avoiding music that produces a strong emotional response. It may, therefore, be best to steer clear of music that you link with negative feelings, such as a break up, the loss of a loved one, or even extremely happy moments in your life.
The Last Word
While research into the many health benefits associated with music is continuous and we are learning more all the time, it is already clear that it can play a huge role in managing stress. From putting music on in the morning to prepare you for the day, to practising a musical instrument, to attending live concerts and even meditating, there are a wide range of ways in which you can use music to lower your stress levels and improve your mental health.