How Music Relieves Stress

We instinctively know that music has a primal power to lift our spirits, and even heal us.

But music as a medicine is all but absent from Western culture.

Music has largely become just another source of free entertainment; an endless variety of stimulating sounds to fill the silence.

The functional aspect of music, its power as a healing force, has almost been forgotten.

And with all of the uncertainty we’re observing in the world each day, managing stress effectively is needed now more than ever.

The Mayo Clinic reports that our bodies treat stress as a threat, no matter how minor it may seem.

When stress occurs chronically, it can disrupt almost all of the body’s processes, leaving you at risk of many health problems, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Memory impairment

Fortunately, science shows that music is shockingly powerful in improving heart health, blood pressure, and the immune system. Spending quality time listening to music also does wonders for anxiety and depression.

Encouraged by this information, more doctors are using music as a calming regimen in hospitals, with incredible results.

Raymond Bahr, M.D., director of Coronary Care at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, stated:

“a half an hour of music produces the same effect as 10 milligrams of Valium.”

Japanese researchers noted the positive effects of music treatment when they gave it to half of one group of surgery patients immediately before anesthesia.

In just a short time, the musically-treated group experienced a higher production of alpha brain waves, indicating states of relaxation.

Those same patients also showed a marked decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, resulting in an enhanced feeling of peace.

It turns out that music is a dynamic agent in cortisol reduction and endorphin production. Listening to music you love minimizes stress and increases positive feelings.

So even if you’re in perfect health, incorporating music into your self-care routine will make an even greater impact on your overall well being.

And while listening to music can positively affect your health, mood, and energy, creating music offers even greater benefits.

When it comes to learning the piano, numerous studies have shown that learning to read music is linked to:

  • Better memory
  • Improved coordination
  • Higher levels of endorphins
  • Improved sleep quality
  • Lower blood pressure and heart rate
  • Greater self-awareness
  • Decreased depression
  • Positive feelings of accomplishment
  • Enhanced relaxation

In a 2013 study from Barcelona, adults between the ages of 60-85 learned the piano as a brand new activity for 4 months.

At the conclusion of the study, the scientists reported that piano lessons decreased depression, induced positive mood states, and improved the psychological and physical quality of life of those involved.

Interestingly, those in the control group that participated in other types of leisure activities, such as physical exercise, computer lessons, or painting lessons, did not show as much improvement as those who learned the piano.

A study from Harvard Medical School agreed, reporting:

“This protective effect of playing music was stronger than those of other cognitive activities, such as reading, writing, or doing crossword puzzles. Physical activities (e.g., walking, swimming) did not appear to confer any protective benefit in the development of dementia.”

And a 2009 study from France demonstrated music’s anxiety reducing effects lasting up to 8 weeks after treatment.

Not only does playing music improve your health, it strengthens your mind as well.

If you are interested in keeping your mind sharp, learning the piano can also aid in supporting healthy brain function and memory.

It has to do with increasing neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to “rewire” and adapt itself with new experiences.

Learning the piano=yoga for your brain

In a study with scientists from the University of Munster, Germany and Canada, musical training in a group of nonmusician adults helped the brain to increase neuroplasticity in as little as two weeks.

A series of brain imaging studies in 2003 found that the auditory cortex of professional musicians have 130% more grey matter and 102% more activity than non musicians.

More grey matter results in a greater ability to process information in the brain.

And even amateur musicians have an average of 37% more brain activity than those who only listen to music.

All this is welcome news for helping the aging brain. Because as Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia continue to rise in the U.S., the number of those affected is projected to double to 12.7 million by 2050.

In a study from the Massachusetts Medical Society, participants aged over 75 years were followed for 5 years.

Those participants who frequently played a musical instrument were less likely to have developed dementia, compared to those who rarely played a musical instrument.

And not only can learning music aid in preserving mental health, but it is also shown to effectively reduce stress, by lowering cortisol and increasing endorphins.

An experiment by researchers in Stanford, California, showed that music boosted levels of endorphins- the brain’s natural painkillers.

Endorphins, also known as the body’s “feel good” chemicals, are important for their ability to:

  • Increase feelings of euphoria
  • Reduce anxiety

Which is especially exciting, considering its relaxation benefits could help you:

  • Decrease feelings of mild depression
  • Boost the immune system
  • And even help relieve insomnia

And for over 20 years, anesthesiologist Ralph Spintge, M.D. used soothing piano music in preparing patients for surgery. He found it allowed him to use up to 50% fewer sedatives, without any unpleasant side effects.

One study showed that music’s beneficial effects of reducing anxiety and depression lasted up to eight weeks after treatment.

As you can see, music's inherent ability to promote peace, harmony, and healing is something we can all use more of.