Listening to your favorite music may have more health benefits than you think. Here’s how songs can reduce stress and help you heal.
It’s only when we forget our headphones that we realize how much we rely on music to help us through the day. Our favorite music seems capable of cheering us up before an important moment, calming us down when we’re upset, and pretty much everything in between.
But is there really a scientific explanation for this? As it turns out, yes!
Music has been widely studied and respected throughout human history for its ability to entertain and to cure. Countless experts have researched 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.
Modern research suggests that music has significant power to help reduce stress and anxiety, relieve pain and improve focus among many other benefits.
Stress – feeling emotionally tense, overwhelmed or feeling unable to cope – affects us mentally and physically.
Stress has a biological effect that causes your body to release specific hormones and chemicals that activate your brain in certain ways. For example, when we are under a lot of stress, our heart rate and blood pressure can increase, and our adrenal glands begin to produce cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone.”
In the 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 over a long period of time, it causes permanent, debilitating states of fight, flight, or freeze. . Constant or chronic stress can lead to the development of anxiety disorders, depression, chronic pain, and more.
Across time and space, music has had tremendous success as a stress reliever. 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 review of music and stress research suggests that listening to music can:
- lower heart rate and cortisol levels
- they release endorphins and improve our sense of well-being
- they distract us, reducing the level of physical and emotional stress
- reduce stress-related symptoms, whether used in a clinical setting or in everyday life
Most research into the effects of music on health focuses on its ability to calm and relieve stress. In recent years, this research has expanded in exciting and surprising new directions.
Some recent findings include the following:
- Decreased cortisol levels. A recent 2021 study found that adults who listened to both personal and neutral music, both at home and in a laboratory setting, had significant “reductions in cortisol levels.” This was found regardless of the type of music.
- Benefits in mental health treatments. A review of 349 studies on the usefulness of music as a mental health treatment for conditions including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression found that 68.5% of music interventions had positive outcomes.
- Reduced combustion. Music therapy has also had a significant benefit in preventing burnout in operating room staff. 6 weeks
studyshowed that after having access to 30-minute music listening sessions every day at work for a month, staff reported reduced stress levels and less emotional exhaustion.
- It helps you sleep.
62%of respondents to a 2018 survey said they used music (from multiple genres) to help them sleep, mostly because it relaxed them and distracted them from everyday stressors. People who used music less were more they are likely to have poorer sleep quality.
- Reduced depression. Listening to music or music therapy reduced levels of depression, according to a
2017 Reviewand was associated with increased self-confidence and motivation, particularly in group settings.
- Reduced anxiety in children. A 2021 review of articles from 2009 to 2019 found that music significantly reduces anxiety in children before and during medical procedures.
- It helps people cope with the pandemic. A
a surveyof over 5,600 people from 11 countries showed that music played a very important role during the COVID-19 pandemic in helping people cope during quarantine and meet their well-being goals regardless of culture, age and gender.
- Improved quality of life with Alzheimer’s disease. Especially when tested in the form of personal relaxation playlists, research has shown that music interventions can positively affect the behavior and cognition of people with Alzheimer’s disease, improving quality of life.
Meditation is an ancient tradition practiced in cultures around 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 heal mental and physical health conditions.
Usually, meditation aims to focus, center, calm or direct your attention. It can also help relax our bodies. So for some people it might pair well with music.
Often, the music used for meditation has a slow tempo, which can lower the heart rate and also reduce anxiety and stress levels. Guided meditation involves music with a narrator or speaker directing your energy flow and focus, or offering 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 individual sessions to help you achieve your goals.
Music therapy can include goal-oriented listening to music, playing and composing music, and songwriting, among other activities. These types of “purposeful” interactions with music can help you overcome troubling emotions or problems, promote positive feelings, and even help with speech or physical therapy.
Research shows that music can help relieve chronic and post-operative pain:
Researchshows that listening to “self-selected, pleasant, familiar music” reduces pain in people with fibromyalgia.
- According to the small
2017 studylistening to music through headphones under local or general anesthesia can reduce cortisol levels during surgery and reduce post-operative pain and stress.
How does it work? Scientists
Music is not limited to help physically the pain. Stress causes both emotional and psychological pain, which music can help alleviate.
You may have found yourself searching for “study song lists” on Spotify or YouTube. Well, it turns out there’s a reason millions of other people are streaming these playlists too!
Listening to music has been shown to improve focus on certain tasks, especially if the task is more complex. Music can also help sharpen our brain’s ability to remember information and make connections.
In one recent experiment, participants were asked to press a button every time the hand on a special clock began to move. The authors found that when people listened to their favorite background music while doing this “low-demand sustained attention task,” their minds wandered less and were more focused compared to those without music.
Anxiety, stress and pain often go together. Music can be one way to help manage them and their problems.
As shown by some of the research discussed previously, music can help reduce anxiety in both adults and children before and during medical procedures.
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 call the parasympathetic side “rest and try,” because it takes care of things when the body is at rest, while the sympathetic is “fight or flight,” in charge of the body in motion.
When we are thrown into a stressful situation, it is difficult to calm down and stay grounded. Deep breathing is one way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system to return to “rest and digest.”
Certain genres of music without lyrics, such as classical and ambient, have historically been the focus of most research on music and stress. Although there is evidence that they can reduce stress and anxiety, this does not mean that they are “better” than other genres of music.
For many of the studies mentioned in this article, listening to music involved multiple genres or songs of their choice both of you participants and researchers. In fact, the American Music Therapy Association states that “all styles of music can be useful in making a difference in the life of a client or patient.”
We also use different types of music for different purposes. Because we all have special relationships with our favorite songs and genres, we can use them to evoke certain emotions and feelings unique to that relationship. For example:
- Classical music is associated with a calming, soothing effect.
- Rap music can be inspirational and motivating when you’re feeling down or dealing with difficult life circumstances.
- Heavy metal music can “enhance identity development” and help you adjust better.
Musicians, researchers and music therapists have actually claimed to have created the “most relaxed” song ever, called “Beightless”. But you will have to decide for yourself.
Listening to your favorite music has more benefits than you think. It is also safe, cost-effective and widely available.
Music is certainly not a magic cure, nor is it a substitute for therapy, drugs, surgery, or any other medical treatments. But the music be able to to 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.
Listening to music, therapy and interventions have many benefits such as:
- reduced stress and anxiety
- better mood
- reduced pain
- improved sleep
- sharpened focus or memory
- relaxing your body and helping you meditate
- help with speech or physical therapy
- fostering community and a sense of community
Research into the healing properties of music and stress relief is ongoing and sometimes with mixed results. But in the end, perhaps the most important takeaway is: keep listening!