It may seem like we’re living in an age of anxiety, where feeling nervous, stressed, and upset has become the norm. But this feeling is a natural human response to situations – it comes when we feel under threat and uncertain about the future.
Not only that, but even mild anxiety can have a detrimental effect on our ability to lead a more purposeful life. It can interfere with being able to express yourself and enjoy the simple things in life.
When we’re facing anxiety, our breathing and even our heart rates increase, while many other systems in our bodies experience overload. But everyone needs to learn how to manage their stress. When things become challenging at school, work, or in your personal life, you can use many calming techniques and tricks to soothe your nerves.
One of the most science-backed ones is sound therapy – they’ve long been embraced as a way of relaxing and recovering one’s health. And that’s not something we discovered yesterday. For centuries indigenous people have used music therapy to improve health conditions and elevate mood.
Today, neuroscientists claim that specific tunes are meant to improve your well-being and give you the most bang for your musical buck.
Our Primal Relationship with Music
In his text “The Descent of Man,” evolutionary theorist, biologist, and naturalist Charles Darwin posited that communication among pre-human or early human species might have started as something much more musical than comparatively monotonous modes of talking that we exchange today. He was the first to realize this innate connection our species have with music. Regardless if that’s in the past or today, every culture known to anthropologists has made music – also referred to as a universal language as it resembles a hug or a smile.
Music doesn’t work in mysterious ways – we know it can activate a broad network of brain regions and centers, even areas related to attention, reward processing, and memory.
Studies have shown that both alpha and beta wave activity in the brain responds to music, increasing or decreasing arousal and attention depending on its style and tempo. While Spotify plays with mellow tunes tend to be soothing, research has frequently shown that cheerful, upbeat music increases the heartbeat and provides a prolonged infusion of energy while jogging, lifting weights, or engaging in other kinds of physical activity.
Using music to manage anxiety and depression
A review from the Journal Psychology of Music found evidence that among patients with clinical depression and anxiety, listening to music can decrease blood pressure, lower heart rate, and other physical symptoms related to one or both conditions. It can also stimulate or downregulate the amygdala, which is the emotion center of the brain. For instance, someone who’s down and who needs a moment of catharsis– listening to a sad playlist or track may allow them to grieve and so get back to homeostasis.
Certified music therapists explain that their profession involves a kind of approach to mental wellness that may combine singing with music listening, composing music, or playing an instrument. But not everyone requires a specialist in order to experience some of the calming or mollifying benefits of music. For those hoping to manage negative emotions and stress, active listening can be a more fruitful experience than passive listening. That simply means listening with a purpose – focusing entirely on the music, which is a type of mindfulness experience.
Where to start? Buy Soundcloud plays you’ve always bragged about, set aside your smartphone and other distractions, and take your time to fully immerse your mind and sense in a piece of music. Of course, the genre of music you listen to is more important than you’d think, but there is no one-size-fits-all soundtrack when it comes to mental health. Therapists say that the right music is always subjective as it depends on your mood and time of day. Broadly speaking, music with a slow tempo that doesn’t feature any sudden changes tends to be more calming, but most individuals know what sort of music soothes their nerves.
Contrary to many beliefs, relaxation isn’t always the listener’s goal. For example, if you’re feeling sad and desperate for a cathartic moment- listening to a sad track will aid your cathartic experience if the piece you’ve chosen encourages you or helps you move past those feelings of sadness.
One study conducted on participants under stress showed that listening to a song called “Weightless” leads to a striking 65% reduction in participants’ overall anxiety and a 35% reduction in their psychological resting rates. These results may look remarkable, but what’s even more incredible is that participants didn’t know the track was carefully arranged with rhythms, harmonies, and bass lines that induce low heart rate, reduce blood pressure, and decrease the stress hormone cortisol.