By Jane Collingwood
The soothing power of music is well-established. It has a unique link to our emotions, so can be an extremely effective stress management tool.
Listening to music can have a tremendously relaxing effect on our minds and bodies, especially slow, quiet classical music. This type of music can have a beneficial effect on our physiological functions, slowing the pulse and heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing the levels of stress hormones.
As music can absorb our attention, it acts as a distraction at the same time it helps to explore emotions. This means it can be a great aid to meditation, helping to prevent the mind wandering.
Musical preference varies widely between individuals, so only you can decide what you like and what is suitable for each mood. But even if you don’t usually listen to classical music it may be worth giving it a try when selecting the most calming music.
When people are very stressed, there is a tendency to avoid actively listening to music. Perhaps it feels like a waste of time, not helping to achieve anything. But as we know, productivity increases when stress is reduced, so this is another area where you can gain vast rewards. It just takes a small effort to begin with.
To incorporate music into a busy life, try playing CDs in the car, or put the radio on when in the bath or shower. Take portable music with you when walking the dog, or put the stereo on instead of the TV.
Singing (or shouting) along can also be a great release of tension, and karaoke is very enjoyable for some extroverts! Calming music before bedtime promotes peace and relaxation and helps to induce sleep.
Research on Music
Music has been used for hundreds of years to treat illnesses and restore harmony between mind and body. But recently, scientific studies have attempted to measure the potential benefits of music. They have found:
- Music’s form and structure can bring order and security to disabled and distressed children. It encourages coordination and communication, so improves their quality of life.
- Listening to music on headphones reduces stress and anxiety in hospital patients before and after surgery.
- Music can help reduce both the sensation and distress of both chronic pain and postoperative pain.
- Listening to music can relieve depression and increase self-esteem ratings in elderly people.
- Making music can reduce burnout and improve mood among nursing students.
- Music therapy significantly reduces emotional distress and boosts quality of life among adult cancer patients.
Certain music is appropriate for meditation as it can help the mind slow down and initiate the relaxation response. However, not all peaceful or “New Age” music works for everyone. Music with no structure can be irritating or even unsettling. Gentle music with a familiar melody more often is comforting. But search around to find what produces a sense of calm, familiarity, and centeredness for you as an individual.
The sounds of nature often are incorporated into CDs made specifically for relaxation. For example, the sound of water can be soothing for some people. It can help conjure up calming images such as lying beside a mountain stream on a warm spring day. Birdsong may also be of use as an aid to help your mind slow down and release stressful thoughts.
Because music has the potential to influence us both psychologically and physiologically, it is an important area of therapy for stress management. Music therapy can make use of biofeedback, guided imagery, and other established techniques to play an important role in the treatment of people with stress-related disorders. But due to the dramatic effects music can have, a trained and knowledgeable music therapist always is required.
When used in combination with biofeedback techniques, music can reduce tension and facilitate the relaxation response. It may be more compatible with relaxation than verbal stimuli, which may be distracting — music is processed mainly in nonverbal areas of the brain.
Music may help people to identify and express the feelings associated with their stress. In a music therapy session, the client can express these emotions, providing an important cathartic release.
Producing music in an improvisational way, and discussing pieces of music and lyrics in a group, can also help us become more aware of our emotional reactions and share them constructively with the group.
Thinking More Clearly
Finally, listening to music can help the brain by improving learning and memory skills, always useful when we’re under stress. This has come to be known as “The Mozart Effect.” Experiments carried out by scientists at the University of California at Irvine found that students’ test scores improved after listening to a recording of Mozart, compared with either a relaxation tape or silence. This may be because the processing of music shares some of the same pathways in the brain as memory.