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How Listening to Music Helps Reduce Stress

There is a lot of research showing how music in different ways can help us reduce stress. Stress has increased during the pandemic causing many to turn to substance abuse and eating disorders. Unfortunately, not many know about the research on how music can help us reduce our stress levels. Just listening to music can have more health benefits than we can imagine. We share how listening to music can help to reduce stress.

What is stress?

Stress is the feeling of emotional tension where one feels overwhelmed and unable to cope mentally and physically. When we are highly stressed, our heart rate and blood pressure can increase and our adrenal glands begin to produce cortisol, also known as “the stress hormone.” Acute release of cortisol can help us deal with difficult situations. But when we habitually produce cortisol in our inability to cope with the same situation over and over again, this is known as chronic stress.

Chronic stress can have adverse effects on us over the long term. It can end up becoming an anxiety disorder, depression, chronic pain and a whole lot of physical ailments.

How music reduces tension

A 2020 research into music and stress showed that listening to music can help distract us, thus reducing physical and emotional stress levels. It also lowers our heart rate and cortisol levels thus improving our sense of well-being.

But what does music actually do when we listen to it? Music is a series of vibrations that travel through our ears to our brain. Our inner ear translates these vibrations into electrical signals and neurons in the brain transmit these to certain areas of the cerebral cortex in the brain.

As the brain detects the different elements of the pitch, tone and rhythm, we begin to sense the musical experience which can influence our emotions and bodily systems.

Music as meditation

Meditation is an ancient practice well-known for teaching the brain to regulate emotions thus reducing stress. There are many ways to meditate to help make meditation enjoyable and music is one of the ways.

Meditation trains the mind to focus, centre and calm down. It helps to direct the mind’s chosen attention and can also help us relax our bodies. Music is a really useful tool to help new meditators.

Listening to a steady rhythm of slow tempo music can help reduce heart rate and reduce anxiety and stress. Guided meditation with music helps to direct the mind to open up and focus on energy and flow.

Music helps ground the mind

Our nervous system consists of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. They act involuntarily and are automatic. We have no control over them because they work whether we think about them or not.

The parasympathetic nervous system is our rest and digest function. It takes care of things when the body is at rest. The sympathetic nervous system is our flight, fight or flee response.

When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, we may find it hard to calm down. Breathing deeply is one way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system to return to the resting state.

One study has shown that some types of music may also help to reactivate the parasympathetic nervous system quicker to reduce heart rate, such as after a high impact exercise.

Which types of music reduce stress?

Do all genres of music help to bring you to the rest state? Certain genres such as lyric-less music, classical and ambient music are historically the subject of most research into music and stress reduction. While they have been found to reduce stress and anxiety, they are not necessarily the only genre of music for stress reduction.

Everyone is drawn to different types of music for different purposes. We all have different connections to the music we listen to. We can use music we have relationships with to invoke certain emotions.

Classical music, for example, can have a soothing effect. Rap music can be inspiring and motivating when one is feeling low or dealing with challenging life circumstances. Heavy metal music can help to enhance identity development.

You can explore some of the most popular genres of music to see what works for you when you feel you need some emotional uplift.

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