In times like these, when negative headlines continue to saturate our newsfeeds, headlines and media channels, it stands to reason that anxiety levels across the country are through the roof. For this reason, managing stress has become a top priority and failure to address our anxiety can pose pretty serious threats to our health. So, what can be done?
Music has long been considered a powerful tool for mood regulation. The right sounds can promote feelings of calm and enhance overall wellbeing, but where does music stand when it comes to tackling the kinds of negative thoughts and feelings that can result in troubling long-term conditions like anxiety? Let’s take a closer look.
Anxiety is a feeling of unease induced by worry or fear created by a perceived stressful event or situation. While it is a perfectly natural and understandable response, it’s certainly not a pleasant one, especially if you are experiencing it around the clock. Physical effects of anxiety include rapid heart rate and quick breathing, sweating and trembling, difficulty eating or sleeping, poor concentration, decreased libido, muscle tension, and headaches, as well as flare-ups in symptoms of preexisting conditions.
Anxious feelings arise due to certain physiological changes in the body that prepare it for dealing with threat or danger. These physiological changes in the body are caused by our fight-or-flight response, a leftover evolutionary behavior from when our cave-dwelling ancestors dealt with physically-demanding dangers, such as predators, on a regular basis. In this situation, an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, breath rate and blood glucose levels makes a lot of sense. People needed that extra power and energy for survival.
However, in a world where we are unlikely to be dealing with those kinds of historical threats, the body’s defense system is now often triggered by the demands and activities of modern daily life. The result is a prolonged state of hyperarousal caused by constantly feeling under attack and not being able to do anything about it. This can take a serious toll on both the body and mind.
The dangers of an elevated heart rate and high blood pressure are well established. They can cause damage to artery walls, create blood clots and increase the risk of heart attack, among other things. Likewise, constant high blood glucose levels come with their own associated risks. Beyond that, the stress response also dampens various vital bodily functions, including the digestive system and, even worse, the body’s immune response.
The former may make you feel nauseous, give you diarrhea or constipation, cause stomach cramps, or exacerbate any existing gastrointestinal disorders. The latter can leave you vulnerable to illnesses and infections such as the common cold and cold sores. It could also elevate symptoms of any other conditions you might be suffering from at the time.
While stress is a way of life, and the way your body responds to it is, too, there are certain things you can do to mitigate the effects of stress and reduce subsequent anxiety. In the long term, you can even retrain your brain to not always view certain events and situations as being threatening, avoiding a stress response altogether.
Research has highlighted the benefits of music for each of these.
Studies have shown decreased levels of cortisol production (the hormone responsible for bodily changes in response to stress) when subjects listen to music. Moreover, music speed and tempo can actually slow down breathing and heart rate as the body tunes itself to these rhythms. In this way, even when the stress response is triggered, the body can quickly reset itself to a base rate - also known as the so-called rest and digest mode. This phenomenon is known as entrainment, which is also the research principle that Spiritune leverages in our musical compositions. Entrainment is the process by which our body’s rhythmic processes (i.e our breath rate and heart rate) are modulated by rhythmic auditory stimuli (i.e. music).
Furthermore, music can stimulate the release of feel-good hormones such as dopamine and oxytocin. Not only does this boost pleasurable feelings, but it also aids with focus, relaxation, better sleep efficiency, digestive health, and building relationships. Oxytocin even boasts its own anti-stress effects, including reducing blood pressure and cortisol levels. This all adds up to a better ability to cope with the stress response and anxiety in general.
Music activates many key brain regions, such as those responsible for emotion and memory - the amygdala and the hippocampus. In this way, it can help with the processing and expressing of complex negative emotions that result in stress and anxiety, reducing instances of both. It can help you better come to terms with the past and identify and effectively verbalize concerns for the future and have them validated.
Given that anxiety is often triggered through dwelling on adverse events that have already come and gone or overthinking future stressful situations, this can be a really effective way to deal with anxiety. Music can also help with grounding you in the present. In this way, not only does it redirect your attention away from the stresses of life, but the stimulation of music provides your mind with something enjoyable to focus on as you center yourself.
Social isolation has been a significant source of stress for many in recent times. Music facilitates social connections, reducing some loneliness-induced anxiety. Not only does it help you feel connected on a more general level to people through a feeling of shared emotion, it can also bring you together with friends and family to enjoy listening or playing music together.
Perhaps even more amazingly, the late renowned neurologist, Dr. Oliver Sacks, is famously known for comparing music to biophilia, in the sense that when we listen to music, we are connected to something that “feels alive” which is essential to the human condition. This is perhaps a reason why music listening was one of the most engaging activities over the course of the pandemic, when so many people were isolated and sought relief through the connection to music and its emotional powers.
This kind of music-focused activity has been shown to strengthen social bonds, in part because of higher levels of oxytocin - the love hormone. It also encourages dancing and other forms of movement, and we all know how excellent exercise is for combating negative emotions, stress, and more. All in all, the benefits music offers in combating stress are many and varied, including promoting better peace of mind, improved quality of life, more positive relationships with friends and family, and fewer health issues.
If you are struggling with anxiety and looking for a way to help ease your mind, Spiritune’s sound-based solutions could help you better manage your emotions and cultivate psychological wellness. Our compositions that feature core music therapy and neuroscience practices and principles have been optimized and adapted to target specific, personal emotions and feelings. Start your journey to improved health and well-being today, with music.