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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 17, 2019

20 Creative Ways To Say Thank You

20 Creative Ways To Say Thank You

Saying, “Thank you,” can be difficult to do. Some things just demand a little something extra because of the magnitude of the favor or the depth of appreciation involved. But what can you do to say thank you in a meaningful way? Sometimes you have to get a little more creative than just firing off an email. Here are 20 creative ways to say thank you that your friends and family will remember and cherish!

1. Make a gift bag.

A unique, homemade gift bag with a custom label or a note is a simple but heartfelt way to show your appreciation for the wonderful things your friends or family have done for you.

2. Give a toast.

Many people fear public speaking more than death, giving this particular thank-you a little extra meaning. Composing a sincere, eloquent toast and delivering it is a nice way to show appreciation that truly comes from the heart.

3. Write a poem.

“Roses are red, violets are blue…” Uh, you could write that...but why not put a little extra zing in it? Find out what their favorite kind of poetry is: haiku, free verse, iambic pentameter, and so on. (Google them if you don’t know what they are.) Then write one that expresses why they deserve your thanks…and why you’re glad to give it!

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4. Create your own labels.

There are a number of websites that offer custom gift labels. Find one that fits your personality and that of your friends and create a personalized thank-you label!

5. Give a gift card.

Sometimes choosing what to give a friend can be tough. A gift card is a good way to get around this problem. As always, be sure to include a personalized note or card thanking the recipient for their friendship and help.

6. Send a letter.

Snail-mail is a largely lost art form. Don’t worry about how long the letter is, though. What really matters here is that you took the time to put pen to paper and express your feelings sincerely and honestly!

7. Use social media to send a special message.

If someone’s done something you think the whole world should know about, why not put out a social media blast? Use your blog, your Facebook, your Google+ account, and your Twitter to spread the word about why this person’s someone your friends will want to know too!

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8. Make your own digital greeting card.

While an email isn’t always the best way to go when saying thank you, a digital greeting card that you put time and effort into creating can really brighten someone’s day! Make the card reflect the recipient’s personality and compose a short message of thanks for their generosity.

9. Make a YouTube video.

Sometimes, actually hearing someone say, “Thank you,” can make all the difference. Why not take it a step further and create a special video of thanks for your friends, family, and those special people who helped make your day so important…or who helped you through that rough time?

10. Deliver cookies or candies.

Making something yourself is a fun and delightful way to say thank you to someone. Create a sampling of baked goods or homemade candies and decorate them with a simple message, or make them so they form letters! (Think Valentine’s candies, only situationally appropriate.) Attach a thank-you note or label and surprise those special people with the gift of your time and creativity.

11. Make surprise gifts for guests.

There’s no need to wait until “later” to send a thank-you message. Why not do it at the time? Create little gift packets or bags for your guests with surprises inside. This is a great way to say thanks to the people who attended your event, and make sure they won’t want to miss the next one!

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12. Put together a flower basket.

Whether you prefer fresh or artificial flowers, assembling a flower basket with a thank-you note is an excellent way to brighten someone’s day and show you appreciate them.

13. Take a picture.

Sometimes capturing the moment is the best way to put a smile on someone’s face. Have someone take a picture of you receiving that special gift or opening that surprise package and send the giver a copy with a quick but sincere note to say thanks!

14. Repay their generosity by paying it forward.

The best gifts come from the heart, and the best way to repay a gift is to pay it forward. If your friend has a special cause they care about or something they believe in passionately, why not make a donation in their name or volunteer some of your time to the cause? This will mean more than any number of cookies, candies, or thank-you notes because you’re taking your friend’s love and spreading it around to others.

15. Do something special for them.

Take them out to dinner. (See “make a toast.”) Give them that movie they’ve been wanting forever. Cook them dinner and give them a present when they arrive. Any of these are good options for showing someone you really appreciate them and how grateful you are to have them in your life.

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16. Reciprocate their help.

Everyone needs help sometime. Whether it’s holding their hand through a particularly traumatic incident or helping them replace the alternator in their car, being there when they need it shows you remember what they did for you and how much it meant. It also shows that you’re willing to be just as good a friend to them as they were to you!

17. Be there for them.

Not every thank-you gesture has to be a grand public spectacle. Sometimes just giving them a place to come hang out when they’re lonely or showing up to offer them a sympathetic shoulder means the world to a person.

18. Listen to them.

Listening is almost as lost an art as the handwritten letter. When your friend or family member needs to talk, listen to them. Ask questions when appropriate, but just letting them know you’re there and paying attention to them to the exclusion of all else for a little while is a great way to say thank you for the times they listened to you.

19. Say it in another language…or two…

A simple thank you is great…but why not spice it up a little? Instead of just saying, “Thank you,” write or make a video of you telling them thank you in different languages. Some examples might be, “Gracias! Merci! Danke schoen! Spasibo! Mahalo!” and any other ways or languages you can think of. (The ones listed above are Spanish, French, German, Russian, and Hawaiian, in case you were wondering.) If you want to really get tricky about it, say a short phrase in each language that conveys why you’re thanking them!

20. Show them some love.

A simple touch, a hug, or helping out when they need it without being asked may be the most powerful gratitude message you can send. Offer to take the dogs for a walk, sit for the kids for a few hours, or run to the grocery store so they don’t have to. The little things are often the most important and meaningful. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still send a note, but sometimes your simple presence and willingness to help is all that really matters.

Featured photo credit: Hanny Naibaho via unsplash.com

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