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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 March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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