Can Music Help to Reduce Stress?

Issue # 
March 30, 2022

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now. From the threats of war and inflation to the strain of a prolonged pandemic among other systemic issues, it’s no surprise that stress is at an all-time high in this country. According to the American Psychological Association, these significant stressors are pushing stress levels to an all-time high and preventing us from healing and moving forward in a world that seemingly remains to be in a constant state of flux. 

Sometimes the solution is more simple than you may realize - as simple as embracing a pastime we already know and love - music. While it is of course a popular hobby and entertaining activity that has been beloved throughout history, music is also incredibly powerful and reliable in its effects on our mood and wellbeing.

It’s very natural to turn to your favorite playlist to enhance your highs and comfort you during lows, but did you know that certain musical characteristics have a significant impact on how your brain works and can also help you reliably tackle stress?

Science says yes. And in this article, we will explore why. 

First, let’s take a closer look at the significant effects stress has on our mind and body. 

Why Should You Be Concerned About Stress?

While experiencing stress is a normal response to life’s everyday pressures, long-term stress can be incredibly harmful to our health and wellbeing. Its effects impact not only the mind, but the body as well.

Acute stress levels can raise your heart rate and blood pressure and trigger the release of cortisol, known as the stress hormone, a chemical that acts like the body’s alarm system, preparing it for a fight or flight response. In the short term, this type of arousal can help you to gain the energy and focus to deal with immediate, challenging situations. However, prolonged exposure to this hormone and its physiological consequences have been linked to a range of physical and emotional problems, including burnout, anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer. 

In addition, stress can have a significant effect on your behavior, encouraging the use of various, unfavorable coping mechanisms such as indulging in high-fat, high-sugar foods or consuming unhealthy quantities of alcohol or other substances. It can also lower the amount of physical activity you engage in while reducing both the quantity and quality of your sleep

What Positive Effects Does Music Have on the Brain and Body? 

Now more than ever, it is crucial that we find accessible, effective and modern ways to better cope with stress on a daily basis. While people are quick to jump on the pharmaceutical bandwagon, as simple as it may sound, music could be an even more promising solution. And unlike drugs, people can access music anywhere, at any time, with next to no side effects - and it may be even more effective than drug treatments in the long run.

Music can enhance and shift emotions and mental states in powerful and almost immediate ways. Numerous studies have examined its effects on both the body’s physiological arousal linked to stress (increased heart rate and blood pressure accompanied by the release of cortisol) and the psychological stress experiences (feeling nervous, anxious, and restless).  

It has been found that certain aspects associated with music’s nature can help the mind and body return to a more relaxed, resting state — helping to reduce cortisol levels, lower heart rates, and decrease blood pressure among other health benefits. Music can also help transform negative emotions into more positive ones, helping to alleviate stress and promote a feeling of better, general well-being. It is for this reason that music is often used in both medical and mental health care settings - and should be considered more seriously as part of everyone’s daily self-care habits. 

What Other Benefits Does Music Offer to Help Cope with Stress?

1) It boosts productivity

If work pressures are underpinning your stress, music can offer a solution to help chill you out, while promoting higher productivity to complete your work tasks. One study found that playing upbeat music in the background while focusing on an activity led to improvements in processing speed, while both upbeat and downbeat music offered benefits to improve memory. 

2) It supports better sleep 

It’s impossible to address stress without addressing proper sleep habits. Music hasbeen explored as an option to support better sleep quality and quantity. Stress and sleep have a reciprocal relationship, as improvements in one lead to improvements for the other. In short, better sleep helps reduce stress and sleep is known to be a powerful stress reducer

There are some nuances in selecting the right sounds for sleep (as with reaching any other emotional or cognitive state) that may not be obvious. Check out a recent mindbodygreen article featuring one of Spiritune’s neuroscientists on some sleep sound myths and the nuances in sounds for best quality sleep (which Spiritune addresses in our app).

3) It offers a full cognitive workout 

When you work out your body, you typically head to the gym. But when you want to work out your mind, simply plug in your earphones. According to experts over at John Hopkins, “there are few things that stimulate the brain the way music does.” It’s an excellent tool for keeping the brain engaged and, therefore, directing your mindset away from stress. 

4) It reduces chronic pain 

There is a link between heightened stress and its ability to exacerbate pain. And this relationship between stress and pain goes both ways. You will obviously feel stressed when you are in pain, but stress can also worsen pain. Research indicates that music is one of a number of non-pharmaceutical methods that can help soothe chronic pain and, therefore, also help to combat stress. 

There are more and more ways to engage with music that’s been optimized to enhance your health and wellbeing. While considering the nuances of music to match your health needs can be tricky, it’s easy to jumpstart your journey today towards improved wellness with Spiritune. Through the powerful combination of music therapy and neuroscience, Spiritune personalizes your music to your emotions and goals to eliminate the guesswork of selecting music to support your health needs. 

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