Seventeenth-century English poet and playwright William Congreve wrote:
“Music has charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”
While the saying is often misquoted as “Music has charms to soothe the savage beast,” the meaning is the same. Music can help alleviate stress. It can replace feelings of depression and anxiety with calm and even feelings of euphoria.
What does science say?
According to the University of Nevada, Reno, various kinds of music can produce a number of positive emotions.
When music has a faster beat, it can make you more alert and help you concentrate. Upbeat music can create feelings of optimism and a positive view toward life in general.
If the tempo of music is slower, it can alleviate stress, relax muscles, and calm and quiet the mind.
Michigan State University also suggests that music can not only improve our psychological well-being but our physical health as well. Music stimulates the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that creates positive feelings. It can also lower both blood pressure and heart rate, according to other researchers.
A study of nurses also concluded that music can help decrease occupational stress.
It followed two groups of nurses. One group listened to soothing music for 30 minutes while the other sat quietly. The group that listened to music recorded lower heart rates, blood pressure, perceived stress levels, and cortisol levels than the control group.
These findings suggest that taking breaks to listen to soothing music could reduce stress levels in the workplace.
What is music therapy?
Another music-based mental health intervention is music therapy. The American Music Therapy Association defines music therapy as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. Music therapy interventions can address a variety of health care and educational goals.”
People use music therapy for a variety of purposes, including promoting wellness, alleviating pain and stress, enhancing memory, and supporting physical rehabilitation.
Applying the practice to real-life situations, music therapy and other approaches helped former Congressional representative Gabby Giffords regain the use of speech after she was shot in the head.
Practitioners have used music therapy to assist adults with dementia, children with autism, and people with postoperative pain. Dr. Oliver Sacks, the neurologist whose work was featured in several books as well as the movie Awakenings, noted that music can be an effective tool for treating a variety of neurological disorders.
Music to help fight addiction
Addictions to drugs or alcohol are dangerous conditions that often require rehab. Not treating them can be fatal.
But music can also help address this condition too. It can help prevent addiction or speed a person’s recovery from it.
When people have addictions, they crave the pleasure that alcohol or drugs provide. But performing or listening to music releases dopamine in a safe way, helping satisfy people’s cravings for pleasurable sensations without the harm that drugs or alcohol cause.
Music to help deal with stress
Let’s say that you have returned home after a stressful day at work or school. One way to reduce stress could be to relax and listen to some calming music.
In the old days, you might have used albums, cassettes, or CDs to listen to music. Modern devices, such as the Alexa Echo, allow you to create your own playlists that will suit your mood and needs.
Did you know that you can create a playlist by using voice commands? You can ask your device, “Alexa, create a playlist.”
Your voice assistant will ask you what you want to call your playlist. After that, you can either name the songs you want to add or listen to them first and then ask Alexa to add them to your specific list. You can create several playlists, such as one to calm down, one to motivate you during exercise, and so on.
The music you include in your playlist, especially one that helps to alleviate stress, is up to you. Some people like classical music. Others might want to add tunes that have upbeat, positive themes.
Some musical works that can help with stress reduction include:
“Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy translates as moonlight, and this piece could encourage self-reflection in a calm, peaceful way.
“Eine kleine Nachtmusik” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is translated as a little night music and was originally composed as a courtship piece. It is one of the most familiar and iconic classical pieces of all time.
“The Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss was already about 100 years old when it was famously used in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.
“Year of the Cat” by Al Stewart was inspired by the movie Casablanca and depicts a fleeting romantic encounter in a city “where they turn back time.”
“Carpet of the Sun” by Renaissance brings to mind the romance of flight and of traveling quickly from place to place in a sun-drenched sky.
“Moonshadow” by Yusuf Islam (originally Cat Stevens) took its inspiration from the shadow of the singer-songwriter in the moonlight at the edge of the water.
“Women of Ireland (The Love Theme from Barry Lyndon)” by the Chieftains appears on the soundtrack of Barry Lyndon and is a celebration of the women who live on the Emerald Isle.
“Watermark” by Enya is one of the many songs by the iconic New Age singer that can bring calm and peace.
“I Will Find You (Theme from The Last of the Mohicans)” by Clannad appears on the soundtrack of The Last of the Mohicans and reminds listeners of nature and the endless forests that once covered much of North America.
“Concerning Hobbits” from the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack invokes the idyllic life of the hobbits of the Shire, which, for J. R .R Tolkien, was an idealized version of preindustrial England.
Each of these pieces of music, in their own ways, calms negative emotions, such as stress and anxiety, and replaces them with positive feelings, such as euphoria and peace of mind.
Everyone has their own favorite stress-releasing music. Feel free to experiment as you put together your playlist.
Don’t drive or operate heavy machinery while listening to music that could reduce stress. Instead, relax and feel the tension leave your body and your mind.