Music has a well-established relaxing effect on our bodies and minds. Therapists use music to help people overcome anxiety and depression, and improve their cognitive functioning, motor skills and social skills.
Science has also proven that music has many beneficial physiological effects including slowing down the heart rate, lowering blood pressure and reducing the level of stress hormones in the body.
How does it Work?
Music releases “feel good” chemicals and hormones into your body making you feel better almost instantly. The two most important mood enhancing chemicals that are released when you listen to calming music are dopamine and endorphins.
Endorphins give you a sense of pleasure, euphoria, calm and security. Additionally, scientists have discovered that endorphins also act as a pain blocker. They stop pain receptors from transmitting “pain” messages to the rest of the body – just like morphine.
Dopamine is another feel good chemical that increases pleasure receptors. It is released when you do something rewarding like eating, sleeping and, of course, listening to relaxing music. It also pushes you to seek activities that make you feel good.
In addition to endorphins and dopamine, music affects the levels of immunoglobulin A and cortisol in your body.
Immunoglobulin A attacks viruses and other disease-causing agents in the body. By increasing the level of immunoglobulin A in the body, music strengthens your immune system.
Cortisol, on the other hand, is a stress hormone. High levels of cortisol can cause cravings, insulin resistance and high blood pressure. Relaxing music lowers cortisol levels and eases stress and anxiety.
Not All Music!
While music preferences vary widely from one person to the next, not all music is good for reducing stress. Slow and calm music, like classical music, is much better for stress relief than fast, high tempo music.
Your body responds to the rhythm and beat of the music. This is why fast, loud music amps you up and makes your heart race, whereas gentle music decreases your heart rate.
The familiarity of the music also makes a huge difference in how your body reacts. Familiar music produces a sense of comfort and centeredness whereas new music can be unsettling and irritating.
If classical music is not your cup of tea, try listening to the sounds of nature. The sound of water, trees and birds chirping conjures up calming thoughts, like a mountain stream on a warm spring day.
Music has the potential to influence your psychology and physiology, which is extremely useful in stress management. It taps into your emotions and memories, and can either distract you from them or help you to explore them more deeply, depending on your needs. Either way, use music to calm your mind and soothe your soul when feeling stressed and overwhelmed.