From the time human beings learned to make music, they understood its power to soothe and heal. For example, African cultures have used drumming in healing ceremonies, South American Shamans and Native American tribes have used chanting in the same way, and Egyptians have used music to increase fertility. Around the world, music therapy has been used for hundreds of years to treat illness and repair the body.
Recently, an onslaught of studies has provided clear evidence that music has both relaxing and restorative effects on the human brain. One notable study, conducted at Stanford University in 2006, concluded that “listening to music seems to be able to change brain functioning to the same extent as medication.” Apparently, music actually changes the distribution of neurochemicals (such as serotonin) to induce positive moods. (Hey—that does sound like what my Prozac does!) Thus, the rise in music therapy to treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s, to manage conditions such as Autism, and to alleviate pain.
How does music reduce anxiety? Studies have shown that slow, quiet music (such as classical or light jazz) actually slows the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and decreases the levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, in the body. Additionally, music acts as a “thought sponge,” distracting listeners from their anxious thought patterns by completely absorbing their attention.
And it’s not just listening to music that can be helpful in managing anxiety. Making music—either by singing or playing an instrument—provides many of the same benefits. My personal favorites for alleviating general anxiety are Mozart, soft piano pieces, and Celtic music. If I am really feeling panicky, I will go for nature sounds, such as wind, rain, and ocean waves. And if I’m feeling low energy and down, the Backstreet Boys always come through. Like anything else, musical taste is personal—my brother swears by AC/DC or Def Leppard when he is feeling anxious!
Think about how music affects your mood. What sounds soothe you?