Music to De-Stress With?
Music to De-Stress With?
April has been marked as Stress Awareness Month since 1992 – throughout the month health care professionals and health promotion experts work to increase public awareness of both the causes and cures for stress. Although scientists have yet to prove the full extent of the benefits of listening to and performing music, it has long been acknowledged that it is beneficial for our physical and mental well-being and in particular at helping us to de-stress.
During times of stress our brains produce heightened levels of cortisol, a steroid hormone which, in evolutionary terms, helped us in fight or flight situations. When faced with a predator it would help us run faster or manage unexpected levels of strength when fighting. In modern-day terms our brains still produce cortisol in times of stress but this happens when facing a big exam, important meeting at work, or just trying to juggle the ever-increasing expectations of every day life. The more frequently we are subject to stressful situations, the more constant our over-production of cortisol becomes, until eventually we are left emotionally and physically exhausted and struggling to ‘turn off’. Playing a musical instrument has been proven to interrupt and reverse this trigger process, allowing levels of cortisol to lower to their healthy state and allowing our bodies time to recover. In addition to helping to keep our cortisol levels at a healthier level, performing music has also been proven to reduce our pulse and heart rate, ultimately helping to reduce blood pressure.
It isn’t just performing music which has been proven to help with stress – studies in listening to music before facing a stressful situation have proven to allow the body to quickly return to it’s desired levels of cortisol and alpha-amylase (an enzyme which fights unwanted bacteria and helps to break down foods). Long term this means we are more physcially and mentally energetic, as well as having a stronger immune system – can’t say fairer than that! Interestingly classical music, light jazz and gentle folk were all more effective than sounds of nature (commonly associated with fighting stress) at helping to return to a healthy, calm state.
Listening to music we enjoy, be it relaxing or not, has been proven to release serotonin and dopamine, essentially our feel-good hormones. Similarly singing or even shouting has been shown to have the same effect so it’s always worth cranking the volume up on your favourite songs and joining in whether it be in the shower, on the way to work, at kareoke, or with a choir or band! It doesn’t matter if you don’t count yourself as a singer, your body and brain will still appreciate the efforts your putting in.
A common result of stress is trouble sleeping, listening to relaxing music has also been proven to help you fall asleep, sleep for longer, and wake up less in the night. Music has a direct effect on the parasympathetic nervous system, helping your body to relax and prepare for sleep. Listening to slower music, around 60 BPM encourages your heart rate to match this, allowing a calm and stress-free body before attempting sleep. Making music part of your bedtime routine can begin to trigger your body into preparing to sleep as it becomes habit to listen to certain types before drifting off to sleep.
Music has long been used to help people medically, Music Therapy has been established as a way of treating people of all ages who have been affected by injury, illness or disability through supporting their psychological, emotional, cognitive, physical, communicative and social needs. Musical participation does not rely on the need to speak so is particularly useful when helping those who struggle with communicating such as autistic children, those recovering from a brain injury learning to speak again, and people suffering from dementia. Music is such a universal language which tunes into quite primitive responses that it can help bring people together and convey emotions they might otherwise struggle with.
Although many people will never experience music therapy in it’s official context we can all benefit from a bit of self-love through music. Playing music requires an intense focus on the here and now and, as you progress, gives a positive focus to your day. Even if it only offers ten minutes of respite from an otherwise hard day it’s worth considering!
Modern life seems to have us more stressed than ever, this April try and counter your stress-levels with some calming music each day and see if it helps.