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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 November 11, 2019

How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

Have you ever noticed that some people are able to effortlessly remember even the most mundane details and quickly comprehend new things? Well, you can too!

To unlock the full potential of your brain, you need to keep it active and acute. Wasting time on your couch watching mindless television shows or scrolling through facebook is not going to help.

Besides getting out flashcards, what can you do to help remember things better and learn new things more quickly? Check out these 10 effective ways on how to improve memory:

1. Exercise and Get Your Body Moving

Exercising doesn’t just exercise the body, it also helps to exercise your brain. Obesity and the myriad of diseases that eventually set in as a result of being overweight can cause serious harm to the brain.

Furthermore, without regular exercise, plaque starts to build up in your arteries, and your blood vessels begin to lose the ability to effectively pump blood. Plaque buildup leads to heart attacks and it also reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that your blood carries to your brain. When the nutrients don’t make it there, the brain’s ability to function is compromised.

To prevent this from happening, make sure you get moving every day. Even if it’s just a brisk walk, it’ll help you maintain and increase your mental acuity. Brisk walking, swimming and dancing are all excellent activities. Take a look at these 5 Ways to Find Time for Exercise.

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2. Eliminate Stressors and Seek Help If You’re Depressed

Anything that causes you major stress, like anger or anxiety, will in time begin to eat away the parts of your brain that are responsible for memory. Amongst the most brain-damaging stressors is depression, which is actually often misdiagnosed a a memory problem since one of its primary symptoms is the inability to concentrate.

If you can’t concentrate, then you might feel like you are constantly forgetting things. Depression increases the levels of cortisol in your bloodstream which elevates the cortisol levels in the brain. Doctors have found that increased cortisol diminishes certain areas of the brain, especially the hippocampus which is where short-term memories are stored.

Prolonged depression can thus destroy your brain’s ability to remember anything new. Seek professional help to combat your depression – your brain will thank you.

3. Get a Good Night’s Sleep and Take Naps

Getting a consistent 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night will increase your memory. During sleep, the brain firms up memories of recently acquired information.

Getting enough sleep will help you get through the full spectrum of nocturnal cycles that are essential to optimal brain and body functioning during the waking hours. Taking a nap throughout the day, especially after learning something new, can also help you to retain those memories as well as recharge your brain and keep it sharper longer.

4. Feed Your Brain

Fifty to sixty percent of the brain’s overall weight is pure fat, which is used to insulate its billions of nerve cells. The better insulated a cell is, the faster it can send messages and the quicker you will be thinking.

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This is precisely why parents are advised to feed their young children whole milk and to restrict dieting – their brains’ need fat to grow and work properly. Skimping on fats can be devastating even to the adult brain.

Thus, eating foods that contain a healthy mix of fats is vital for long-term memory. Some excellent food choices include fish (especially anchovies, mackerel and wild salmon) and dark leafy green vegetables. Here’re more brain food choices: 12 Foods that Can Improve Your Brain Power

Deep-fried foods obviously contain fat but their lack of nutritional value is not going to help your brain or your body, so think healthy foods and fats.

5. Eat Breakfast and Make Sure It Includes an Egg

According to Larry McCleary, M.D., author of  The Brain Trust Program, an egg is the ideal breakfast. Eggs contain B vitamins which help nerve cells to burn glucose, antioxidants that protect neurons against damage; and omega-3 fatty acids that keep nerve cells firing at optimal speed.

Other foods to add to your breakfast include fruits, veggies and lean proteins. Avoid trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. Trans fats diminish the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other and HFCS can actually shrink the brain by damaging cells.

Having a healthy breakfast in the morning has been shown to improve performance throughout the day. If you’re too busy to have a healthy breakfast, this maybe just right for you: 33 Quick And Healthy Breakfasts For Busy Mornings

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6. Write it Down

If there’s something you want to remember, writing it down can help.

It may sound like a no-brainer, but do you really know why? Writing it down creates oxygenated blood flow to areas of your brain that a responsible for your memories and literally exercises those parts of it. Here’s How Writing Things Down Can Change Your Life.

You can start a journal, write yourself emails or even start keeping a blog – all of these activities will help to improve your capacity to remember and memorize information.

7. Listen to Music

Research shows that certain types of music are very helpful in recalling memories. Information that is learned while listening to a particular song or collection can often be recalled by thinking of the song or “playing” it mentally. Songs and music can serve as cues for pulling up particular memories.

8. Visual Concepts

In order to remember things, many people need to visualize the information they are studying.

Pay attention to photographers, charts and other graphics that might appear in your textbook; or if you’re not studying a book, try to pull up a mental image of what it is you are trying to remember. It might also help to draw your own charts or figures, or utilize colors and highlighters to group related ideas in your notes.

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Here, you can learn How to Become a Person Who Can Visualize Results.

9. Teach Someone Else

Reading material out loud has been shown to significantly improve memory of the material. Expanding further upon this idea is the fact that psychologists and educators have found that by having students teach new concepts to others, it helps to enhance understanding and recall.

Teach new concepts and information to a friend or study partner, and you’ll find you remember the information a lot better.

10. Do Crossword Puzzles, Read or Play Cards

Studies have shown that doing crossword puzzles, read or play cards on a daily basis not only keep your brain active but also help to delay memory loss, especially in those who develop dementia.

So pick up the daily newspaper and work on that crossword puzzle, read a book or enjoy a game of solitaire.

Pick one to two of these tips first and start applying them to your everyday life. Very soon you’ll find yourself having better memories and a clearer head!

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Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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