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Music and Stress Reduction

Music and Stress Reduction

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. Music, in short, can act as a powerful way to reduce stress in our lives.


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. When people are 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. 


To incorporate music into a busy life, try playing Pandora in the car, or put the radio on when in the bath or shower. Your phone has portable music with you where ever you go through different streaming services.  Try turning off the TV and putting on music instead, you will be shocked at how much better you will feel.  A person with depression or mood disorders might listen to music to help with their worst, lowest moods.  Singing (or shouting) along can also be a great release of tension, and karaoke is very enjoyable for some extroverts, however not so good for introverts.  Calming music before bedtime promotes peace and relaxation and helps to fall asleep.


Research on Music   


Music has been used for hundreds of years to treat illnesses and restore harmony between mind and body. But more recently, scientific studies have attempted to measure the potential benefits of music. These research studies 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.

Four Scientific Studies that Show Music Decreasing Stress and Promoting Healing 


Music therapy is becoming increasingly popular in the medical community, and is being used as an important part of palliative care, Alzheimer’s and dementia treatment, and even in the NICU. This is because music has been proven time and time again to have a beneficial effect on both the body and the mind. In the five scientific studies listed below, music has been shown not only to reduce psychological stress, but to promote healing as well.

#1 – McGill University Review

This large-scale review was conducted by a team led by McGill University Professor Daniel J. Levitin, and was the first of its kind. After reviewing more than 400 research papers into the neurochemistry of music, researchers found that listening to music not only helped to reduce a patient’s stress, it also improved immune system function and was more effective than prescription medications at reducing patient anxiety prior to surgery. The study was published in the March 2013 edition of Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

In the review, researchers found that listening to music increased the production of immunoglobulin A, which plays an important role in the body’s mucous system immunity. More natural killer cells (which attack harmful bacteria and germs) were also produced. At the same time, listening to music reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body


#2 – Music Reduces Anxiety Levels of Patients Receiving Ventilation

In this study, researchers asked 64 patients on mechanical ventilation to answer the Chinese State Trait Anxiety Inventory scale before and after either 30 minutes of rest, or 30 minutes of listening to music. The participants’ physiological indicators and resting behaviors were also recorded both before and after the study period.

Researchers found that participants who listened to music for a single session of 30 minutes showed greater psychological and physiological relaxation than those who simply rested without listening to music. This may mean that music can help stave off or even prevent some of the potentially harmful physiological responses caused by the anxiety patients often experience while on a ventilator. 


#3 – Music Reduces Agitation in Dementia Patients

In a study published in the August 01 edition of Nursing Times, Nottingham University Hospitals nurse Jacqueline Craig found that music therapy found that music therapy helped to reduce stress and anxiety, while helping to enhance emotional wellbeing and even helped to increase social interaction.


The study reviewed a number of scientific articles on the subject of music therapy as part of dementia care, and found that patients showed improvement in anxiety and stress levels with a minimum of two 30-minute therapy sessions per week.


#4 – Music in the NICU

Finally, while recorded music may risk over stimulating the senses of premature infants, live music has been found to be extremely effective. In a 2013 study published in Pediatrics, researchers found that infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU infants showed positive physiologic and developmental outcomes when exposed to live music interventions three times per week.

The study involved 272premature infants with clinical sepsis, respiratory distress, and/or small for gestational age symptoms. During the period during which rhythms or lullabies were played or sung, the infants experienced lower heart rates, better oxygen saturation, higher caloric intake, and increased sucking behavior. In addition, the live music or rhythms proved to be soothing to parents present for the study as well.


Music has long been considered to be one of humanity’s greatest creative achievements; as it turns out, this creative force may have serious medical implications as well. Study after study has shown that music not only helps to reduce psychological stress, it can improve physiological symptoms, aid in healing, and improve immune function as well.


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