The Unexpected Stress-Busting Power of Music

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While listening to Eminem’s “Till I Collapse” is widely considered the way to get pumped up, music can also calm us down. Research suggests listening to tunes can distract us from stress and even increase our pain threshold [1].

Don’t Worry, Be Happy — The Takeaway

While sex can reduce stress, it may not always be appropriate to heat things up when anxiety rolls in. Luckily, researchers suggest listening to music is an effective way to reduce physiological stress (and doesn’t require taking any clothes off). In one study, college students performed an oral presentation with either Pachaelbel’s Canon or no music in the background. Scientists found those lovely violins helped reduce anxiety, heart rate, and blood pressure in participants who presented with the tunes [2].

Music can also help with a situation that stresses out even the bravest among us: heading to the doctor or dentist [3]. In patients from infants to 20-year-olds, headphones playing certain calming tunes (folk, contemporary, classical, and lullaby) may decrease pain and anxiety during medical procedures [4]. And one study found music can be beneficial for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. Patients showed better moods, lower blood pressure, and lower heart rates when they listened to music or worked with a music therapist [5]. Researchers think music can distract patients from their misery and even increase their ability to tolerate pain [1]. (Mozart makes that cavity filling a piece of cake.)

While the science behind music therapy is relatively new, some experts suggest the brain’s response to music can help ease pain and depression and could even enhance creativity [7] [8]. (Who needs booze?) Slower musical beats can also alter brainwave speed, creating brainwave activity to when we're in a more meditative or hypnotic state. For some people, listening to slow music is also a therapeutic way to reduce stress, headache pain, and even symptoms of PMS [9].

Still stressin’ at night? Classical music may be an effective way to ease into falling asleep, which will hopefully lead to feeling more refreshed in the AM [10]. Not a huge Beethoven fan? Don’t you worry 'bout a thing — just listen to this song instead.

The Tip

Listening to music (especially slower tunes) can alter brain activity, which may lead to a reduction in stress and pain.

About the Author
Laura Schwecherl
I'm the marketing director at Greatist, and when I'm not hanging at HQ with my best buds (aka co-workers...) you can find me training for...

Works Cited

  1. Stress reduction through listening to Indian classical music during gastroscopy. Kotwal, M.R., Rinchhen, C.Z., Ringe, V.V. Sir Thutob Namgyal Memorial Referral Hospital Gangtok Sikkim India. Diagnostic and Therapeutic Endoscopy, 1998;4(4):191-7.
  2. Relaxing music prevents stress-induced increases in subjective anxiety, systolic blood pressure, and heart rate in healthy males and females. Knight, W.E., Rickard, N.S. Monash University, Victoria, Australia. Journal of Music Therapy, 2001 Winter;38(4):254-72.
  3. Regular dental visits and dental anxiety in an adult dentate population. Sohn, W., Ismail, Al. Department of Cariology, Restorative Sciences & Endodontics, School of Dentistry, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor MI. The Journal of the American Dental Association, 2005 Jan;136(1):58-66; quiz 90-1.
  4. Music therapy may reduce pain and anxiety in children undergoing medical and dental procedures. Bekhuis, T. Center for Dental Informatics School of Dental Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA. Journal of Evidence-Based Dental Practice-Guide for Authors, 2009 Dec;9(4):213-4.
  5. Music interventions for improving psychological and physical outcomes in cancer patients. Bradt, J., Dileo, C., Grocke, D., et al. Department of Creative Arts Therapies, College of Nursing and Health Professions, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2011 Aug 10;(8):CD006911
  6. Stress reduction through listening to Indian classical music during gastroscopy. Kotwal, M.R., Rinchhen, C.Z., Ringe, V.V. Sir Thutob Namgyal Memorial Referral Hospital Gangtok Sikkim India. Diagnostic and Therapeutic Endoscopy, 1998;4(4):191-7.
  7. Music exposure differentially alters the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor and nerve growth factor in the mouse hypothalamus. Angelucci, F., Ricci, E., Padua, L., et al. Fondazione Don C. Gnocchi, Rome, Italy. Neuroscience Letters, 2007 Dec 18;429(2-3):152-5. Epub 2007 Oct 18.
  8. Music therapy for depression. Maratos, A.S., Gold, C., Wang, X., et al. Central and Northwest London Foundation NHS Trust, London, UK. Cochrane Database Of Systematic Reviews, 2008 Jan 23;(1):CD004517.
  9. A comprehensive review of the psychological effects of brainwave entrainment. Huang, T.L., Charyton, C. Transparent Corporation, Columbus, Ohio, USA. Alternative Therapies, Health and Medicine, 2008 Sep-Oct;14(5):38-50.
  10. Music improves sleep quality in students. Harmat, L., Takacs, J., Bodizs, R. Semmelweis University, Institute of Behavioural Sciences, Budapest, Hungary. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 2008 May;62(3):327-35.

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