Using music as therapy.
“Music has charms to soothe the savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”
So offered William Congreve in the 17th Century, and he was right, more or less. Not sure about softening rocks, but it can affect your mind and body. It has become an accepted form of therapy for a variety of conditions, and more than 8,000 licensed therapists practice this trade.
Music is so much more than just nice background sound, especially if you’re really listening. It’s been found to help stroke victims recover motor skills, can aid in pain relief, and can improve the quality and duration of sleep for young and old alike.
For those suffering from mental illness, music therapy helps to regulate the emotions, improve communication skills and mental functioning. Music therapy has also helped autistic patients hone their motor and attention skills as well as social functioning.
It’s also good for your digestion — listening to soft music during a meal may lead you to eat less, and by helping you feel relaxed, make digestion easier.
And that’s not all. Research suggests that regularly listening to certain types of music can help to improve heart rate and blood pressure, reduce anxiety and the severity of depressive symptoms. Above all, it can help you to manage stress, that silent killer.
How does it work? Some experts believe it might have something to do with entrainment — that’s the tendency for all organisms, including people, to synchronize with the rhythms they’re hearing. Body rhythms can be accelerated or slowed down, depending on the speed of the rhythms you’re listening to.
Others propose that it changes how we perceive noises around us. Musical sounds are appealing and can block out other sounds that are unsettling or annoying. Still others argue that music distracts us from internal noise, the thoughts and feelings that make us uncomfortable, angry, or depressed.
To no one’s surprise, different types of music evoke different types of neurological stimulation and so produce different emotional reactions — some make us feel energized, some happy, some sad, and some relaxed. If you’re working out, fast paced and up-beat music helps to motivate you to work harder; if you’re looking to relax, slower music is better.
Back to stress.
Slow classical music works to reduce stress at both physiological and cognitive/emotional levels. For the former, it slows down your breathing, pulse, and heart rate, and decreases levels of stress hormones. For the latter, it takes your mind off what’s stressing you. With the capacity to distract, music can break the ruminating chain. That’s the tendency for upsetting or stressful thoughts to produce negative emotions, which then produce more negative thoughts, and so on until we work work ourselves into a tizzy.
Also, as music can absorb our attention and distract us from external noises and disruptive thoughts, it’s a great aid to meditation, another useful stress reduction tool. Soothing tones slow down your thought processes and produce a calm state of mind. There’s a reason why such music is playing when you get a massage.
So, even if you don’t usually listen to classical or meditation music, you might want to give it a shot if you feel really stressed out, or just want to feel calmer and relaxed. It’s a great backdrop as you go through your day, and you might get more enjoyment from what you’re doing as you set the tone for a lower-stress day.