The role of music in stress management

Music can be a useful tool in relieving stress and can be used in several different ways.

“Music Therapy” as some people refer to it uses music to promote healing and improve one’s overall emotional well-being. This may include listening to music, playing a musical instrument, singing along to music, and using guided imagery with music. Research indicates that music stimulates the production of opiates and endorphins, the “feel good” hormones in our bodies. This stimulation can result in improved blood flow and blood pressure.

Further studies show even more benefits from music therapy when it is used not as an end product, but as a tool for health and well-being. These studies have shown that listening to or playing music reduced the prevalence of burn-out among nursing student and long-term healthcare workers. Another small study showed that music can be effective in improving the behavior and school performance of inner-city, at-risk youth.

When I ask people to share some of the strategies they use to deal with stress in the short-term, listening to music and playing a musical instrument come up very often. When discussed during the Michigan State University Extension RELAX: Alternatives to Anger Programs that I teach, music is always near the top of everyone’s list of temporary diversions from stressful or anxiety producing situations. I’ve had participants report that listening from everything to hard rock as loud as the speakers can go, soft classical, hip-hop, soul and country music can serve to make them feel better when under pressure or stress.

Some clients have reported that they relax through making music, as well as listening to it. I once had a mom of five young children tell me that when she and the kids were stressed out, they would all go into the playroom and bang on the toy drums and baby xylophone and make up their own random tunes. I’ve had others tell me that they took up piano or guitar lessons and that this helped in getting them through some stressful time in their lives.

I encourage the people I work with to try it or continue with it if they’ve found that it works for them. It comes up so often, that I have put together a play list for clients who are interested or make inquiries about what I find soothing and relaxing. Here’s a small sample of what’s on the list:

  1. “In My Time” by Yanni
  2. Pachelbel’s Canon in D
  3. “Sailing” by Christopher Cross
  4. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin
  5. “Easy” by the Commodores
  6. “Hasta Mi Final” by Il Divo
  7. “The Best of Michael Franks” by Michael Franks

Music is a powerful tool that can switch off the stress response and in turn improve our emotional health. Whether one listens to, plays or sings, it doesn’t matter. All of it has proven benefits.

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