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How to Relieve Stress Through Music

How to Relieve Stress Through Music

Did you know there are simple, easy ways to tackle your stress – without spending a fortune? One of the best ways to relieve stress is through music; and we’ve got the science to back it up.

Music has a way of influencing our emotions, both positively and negatively, depending on the song. Ever notice that you seem happier after listening to your favorite song? It’s more than just a “feeling” – research has actually explained the chemical reactions that music can produce in your brain.

Here’s a closer look at how music impacts your mood, and how you can take advantage of this stress-relieving tactic.

What the Research Says

In one experiment, 30 participants listened to musical excerpts deemed “happy” or “sad.” After listening, the participants were shown photographs of human faces. These photographs ranged from happy to sad expressions, including plenty of neutral expressions. The participants rated the emotional state of the face in each photo, along a seven-point scale; where one represented extremely sad and seven represented extremely happy.

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The people who listened to “happy” music rated the happy faces as even happier, while those who listened to “sad” music rated the unhappy faces as even sadder. The researchers found that the mood of the music participants listened to, whether happy or sad, significantly exaggerated their perceptions of those emotions in other people.

Music doesn’t just influence how we feel emotionally; it actually impacts our bodies. A recent study of 117 volunteers illustrated this phenomenon. Volunteers all attended a live concert, featuring music by the same composer. The researchers took saliva samples from each participant both before the performance, and an hour later, during the show’s intermission.

They found that glucocorticoid levels dropped, across almost all participants. This included a drop in levels of cortisol, commonly considered the “stress hormone.”

A steady level of cortisol is important for normal body functions; but when your body enters a “fight or flight” response mode, cortisol levels spike, raising your blood sugar and suppressing the digestive system and immune system. In a brief moment of intensity, this reaction can be helpful. But high levels of cortisol for too long can cause long-term mental and physical issues.

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As the concert study demonstrates, live music can lower your levels of “stress hormones” to help you relax. The best part? The researchers found no difference between people of different ages, or musical abilities – suggesting that this response is universal among all concert audience members and music listeners.

Music as a Universal Language

What do music and emotion have in common? They’re both universal languages. Everyone worldwide—no matter their culture or spoken language—understands the six basic (or “universal”) emotions.

In the 1960s, psychologist Paul Ekman showed test subjects various photos of human faces representing different emotions. Test subjects classified the faces into emotional states. Ekman’s team of researchers found that six core emotions that existed across cultures:

  • Joy
  • Surprise
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Disgust
  • Fear

No matter where we grew up, all humans recognize these same six emotional states (some people classify “contempt” as a seventh universal emotion).

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Emotions and facial expressions aren’t the only types of language that are universal across human cultures. Just as people can recognize emotions in other human faces, people also understand the emotion a musical piece portrays. We all know that sad music uses soft dynamics, a soft tempo, a minor key, and legato articulation (whether we know those specific terms or not, we recognize those sounds and patterns as creating “sad” music). Happy music uses louder intensities, a major key, and staccato articulation.

Psych Central calls this musical language “halfway between thought and phenomenon.” Through the patterns and notes they write, composers are able to manipulate emotions. “Music has the ability to conjure up images and feelings that need not necessarily be directly reflected in memory.”

It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, or what language you speak; music has the power to influence all of our moods. The right composition can make us happier, sadder, and even less stressed.

Ways to Use Music for Stress Relief

Like the idea of using music as an affordable, natural stress reliever? Whether you need a break from your endless to-do list, or you’ve observed your kids becoming increasingly stressed over homework; there are several ways you can integrate music into your own and your children’s lives.

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Not only will you improve your kids’ emotional wellbeing; you’ll also foster healthy coping skills, by giving them tools to ease their own stresses and worries. Plus, how many kids will protest to more music in their lives?

Start with these suggestions:

  1. Take your kids to concerts and musicals – Not only is this a great way to get out of the house and relax for a bit, but it also provides a great bonding experience for the entire family. Be selective about the shows you attend. As the research shows, different types of music elicit different emotional responses. Choose something with a soothing, happy tone; a genre that suits your style, and will leave you feeling refreshed and joyous as you walk out of the show.
  2. Perform in shows and musicals – You might be surprised at how much your kids (and even you!) enjoy participating in musical events. Check out your local community theater, and get involved in one of their musicals. Consider signing your children up for music classes and recitals, through your community or school district.
  3. Sing karaoke – Go out of town with friends, or put on a karaoke party in the living room with your kids! Singing upbeat, happy tunes is a great way to let go of your stress, and have some fun. Extra silly karaoke can lead you into a bit of laughter therapy, as well – doubling the stress relief.
  4. Play music in the background – Whether you’re working, cleaning, cooking, or helping the kids with homework; playing music in the background can help ease stress while completing various tasks. Put on a soothing tune at a low volume, to decrease your “stress hormones” without distracting you. Focus on instrumental compositions — such as classical songs — rather than songs with lyrics; since the lyrics activate the language centers of the brain, and can distract you from the tasks you’re working on. Experiment with different types of music with your children, to see which songs distract them, and which help them focus.

Knowing that music can influence your mood – emotionally and chemically speaking – is extremely valuable when seeking stress relief. Put these ideas and tips to use, and try purposely listening to pleasant music when you’re feeling depressed, angry or frustrated. Add more music to your children’s lives – in the form of both listening and performing music – to ease their stress levels and help them cope with emotions in healthy ways. Don’t get discouraged if one type of music doesn’t work for you, or your kids; you may have to try several different styles until you find one you personally like.

Featured photo credit: Shutterstock via image.shutterstock.com

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Jennifer Paterson

President of California Music Studios

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Last Updated on May 21, 2019

13 Bad Habits You Need to Quit Right Away

13 Bad Habits You Need to Quit Right Away

Creating your productivity ritual — a routine that helps you to maintain a peak level of energy can get you the best out of your days.

Part of creating your productivity routine involves removing activities that drain you (what I call “kryptonites”), and that includes your bad habits.

Like it or not, bad habits are bad for you — mentally, physically, emotionally and even socially in some cases. While some bad habits are harder to quit than others, it doesn’t change the fact that you need to get rid of them. Here are 13 bad habits to quit right away:

1. Stress Eating

I used to be a serious stress eater. I would eat whenever I felt unhappy, stressed, disappointed, anxious, or even… happy! My eating had nothing to do with being hungry, and everything to do with using food to fill my emotional voids.

While eating would comfort me, this feeling was momentary and would disappear right after I was done eating. Instead, what I had left would be the same emotional void that triggered me to eat in the first place (be it unhappiness or stress), a 2,000 excess calorie intake over what I should have eaten for the day, and anger at myself for having stress ate.

I’ve since overcome stress eating. I have healthy eating habits and a healthy relationship with food today where I no longer use food as a tool to fill my emotions.

If you are a stress eater, don’t fret — here’s how to manage your stress better:

How to Manage Stress (A Step-by-Step Guide to Turn Stress Into Success)

2. Nail Biting

Not only is nail biting unhygienic, it is also socially repelling, leads to dental problems like malocclusion of the anterior teeth,[1] potentially cause stomach problems,[2] and lead to severely deformed fingernails in the long run.

People who bite their nails tend to have shorter nails than the average person; their nail plates also experience scarring and may eventually become absent.[3]

Understand what triggers your nail biting behavior and replace it with another neutral to positive habit. Make habits to break habits.

For example, if you bite your nails when you are stressed, go for a walk or listen to music instead the next time you feel stressed.

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3. Hanging out with Naysayers

We all know these people — people who play devil’s advocate to every idea you have and every goal you want to pursue. We are already our greatest self-critics, so it doesn’t help when there’s someone beside us, ever ready to pounce on what we say and tear it down.

Hang out less with these naysayers and spend more time with supportive people who share constructive feedback instead. You will be much happier this way.

Learn how to get rid of naysayers with these 10 Ways to Ignore the Naysayers and Achieve Your Dreams.

4. Being with People Who Don’t Appreciate You

Haven’t all of us been in this situation before? Trying to please people who don’t appreciate us? Bending over backwards to be there for people when they are never there for us?

While we give without expectations of return, we need to draw a line with people who don’t value us because these people damage our souls.

Stop spending time with people who don’t appreciate you, and spend more time with people who do instead.

Unsure who you should get rid of? Learn about it here: 5 Kinds of Toxic People That You Need to Get Rid of Now

5. Smoking

Smoking is one of the leading causes of preventable death globally.[4]

In just the United States alone, about 500,000 deaths are attributed to smoking-related diseases annually. A recent study estimated that as much as one-third of China’s male population will have significantly shortened life-spans due to smoking! Gender-wise, male and female smokers lose an average of 13.2 and 14.5 years of life respectively — that’s over a decade of life right there.[5]

Not only that, smoking causes pre-mature skin aging (i.e. wrinkles), yellowing of teeth, bad breath, and worse of all — jeopardy of the health of people around you, including your loved ones. Studies have shown that non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke are at risk to many of the health problems associated with direct smoking.[6]

Smoking risks

    6. Excessive Drinking

    All of us know that drinking too much alcohol is bad for us, but do you know how bad it really is?

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    According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, drinking too much — be it on a single occasion or over time — can seriously damage your health:[7]

    • Brain problems: Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, making it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.
    • Heart diseases: Cardiomyopathy – Stretching and drooping of heart muscle, Arrhythmias – Irregular heart beat, stroke, high blood pressure
    • Liver diseases: Steatosis or fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, cirrhosis
    • Pancreas problems: Pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.
    • Different types of cancer: Mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, breast

    If you drink a lot, perhaps cutting it out right away will be tough. Cut down the number of glasses you drink each time, followed by the number of times you drink a week.

    If need be, seek help from an AA group — you aren’t alone in this. Change starts from today.

    7. Eating Junk Food (Including Diet Soda)

    Junk food — they are everywhere in our society today. From McDonald’s, to KFC, to Burger King, to 24-hour takeouts, junk food such as fries, highly processed burgers and sodas has become a staple in our society today.

    If you think, “Hey, but junk food is tasty!”, think again:

    A study by Paul Johnson and Paul Kenny suggests that junk food consumption alters brain activity in a way similar to addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin.[8]

    “After many weeks with unlimited access to junk food, the pleasure centers of rat brains became desensitized, requiring more food for pleasure.”

    And you wonder why you seem to crave fast food when you just had some the day before?

    While it may not be possible to remove junk food completely from our diet right away, we can reduce our junk food consumption starting today. Instead of soda, opt for a fruit juice (fresh juice, not the carbonated kind) or mineral water. Instead of fries, switch to mashed potato, a salad, or rice (many food outlets allow for this today). Instead of a fried meat patty, go for a grilled one.

    Where possible, opt for healthy food joints like salad bars and delis as opposed to fast food outlets. Every little step goes a long way.

    Here’re some healthy snacks ideas for you: 15 Healthy Snacks You Should Always Have At Home

    8. Eating Too Much Red Meat

    There has been conclusive evidence that consumption of red meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer; and suggestive evidence that it increases the risk of oesophageal cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, and endometrial cancer.

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    In addition, some studies have linked consumption of large quantities of red meat with breast cancer, stomach cancer, lymphoma, bladder cancer, lung cancer and prostate cancer![9]

    Personally, I’m a vegetarian so I don’t consume red meat, but for those of you who consume red meat, do watch out and limit your intake — better still, cut it out of your diet. World Cancer Research Fund recommends limiting intake of red meat to less than 300g (11 oz) cooked weight per week, “very little, if any of which to be processed.”

    Of if you’re thinking about becoming a vegetarian, check out this guide: 5 Practical Tips For Starting a Vegetarian Lifestyle

    9. Watching Too Much TV

    I stopped watching TV since eight years ago and I have never regretted it. Every once in a while I will switch on the telly to see what is on, and then I will switch it off because it’s just the same boring shtick over and over again.

    Watching TV, particularly well-written dramas, can be a good way to unwind. However, remember that TV isn’t your life.

    Spending three hours every night watching TV will not change your life for the better. Rather, using that time to reflect on your life, take stock, and take action on your goals will.

    It’s not easy to remove TV from your daily routine right away, but follow these 6 Steps To Remove TV From Your Life.

    10. Being Late

    Not only is being late being rude to others, it also means that you’re always rushing from one place to another, playing catch up in your agenda, and having to apologize to every person you meet.

    Stop being late and not being punctual, but practice being early instead. Target to arrive 15 minutes earlier before any appointment and bring along something to do in those 15 minutes (or longer if the other person turns out to be late). Then you can stop playing catch up and stay ahead in life.

    Learn more tips about how to be more punctual here: How to Be On Time Every Time

    11. Being in Bad Relationships

    Are you always dating the wrong guys/girls? Do you end up with jerks all the time? Well, you may not be able to stop yourself from meeting bad partners but you can certainly stop yourself from furthering contact with them, spending time with them, or even… entering into a relationship with them.

    I used to invest myself in this guy who was nothing but toxic for me. After a good five months of experiencing nothing but getting burned over and over again, I realized that he was a total waste of my time and I deserved better. I decided to cut him off, and it was soon after that I met my soulmate.

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    Learn about why you shouldn’t stay in a bad relationship and how to deal with it if you’re in one: Why Trying Hard to Stay in an Unhappy Relationship Is Not Love, but Fear

    12. Leaving Things to the Last Minute

    Burning the midnight oil isn’t fun — it’s exhausting.

    Those of you who got through college by burning the midnight oil would have learned this the hard way. Not only is it damaging for your body, it is also mentally draining as you’re constantly in a hyper-tense mode, feeling anxious about whether you can finish your work on time.

    Start today on a new note. Rather than react to your deadlines, be proactive about them by planning ahead, identifying what needs to be done for the week, and getting things done in advance.

    By staying ahead of your tasks, you can also use your extra time to plan ahead in your life and get more things done.

    Take a look at this guide and learn how to stop procrastinating: Procrastination – A Step-By-Step Guide to Stop Procrastinating

    13. Focusing on the Negatives

    In every situation, there are two ways you can react: zoom down to the problem areas and crib about how things aren’t the way you want, or celebrate the areas that are going well and work on making everything better.

    Many of us see the importance of doing the latter but in practice, we do the former. Why though? Criticizing and focusing on the negatives is easy but it doesn’t empower nor inspire us to be better.

    Make a change — for every negative encounter you run into, I challenge you to identify three things that are good about it. Practice doing this for one week, and by the end of the week you’ll find that your first instinct is to think positive, not negative.

    And here’re even more ways to help you stay positive: 11 Tips for Maintaining your Positive Attitude

    The Bottom Line

    So here you find the 13 most common bad habits and their consequences on your mind and body. The good news’ you can quit them all.

    Just spot out your own bad habits and take my suggestions to quit them. Then you’ll find your life a lot healthier and happier!

    Need more tips to break your bad habits? Check out these articles:

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

    Reference

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