Regardless of where stress comes from, it builds up and can negatively affect all aspects of your life. There are a lot of ways people deal with stress. Talking things out with a confidant, working out and meditation are just a few remedies for anxiety. But did you know that listening to and playing music is also an effective solution to those gut-wrenching feelings?
The reality is, you don't need to take part in an academic study using supervised musical therapy to mitigate stress through listening to or playing music. As long as you have something on hand to make music - an instrument or stereo - you can reap the rewards it contributes to your general well-being.
With that in mind, here are five suggestions on how to incorporate more music in your life and relieve anxiety:
1. Mindfulness: When you play music, it takes concentration and mindfulness. Being present in any situation helps block out all the negative energy that comes from dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Whether it's taking a guitar and learning basic chords or tackling a song you love, the one-on-one bond between you and your instrument is important.
2. Physical Benefits: If you're listening to music, perhaps choose something soothing with a slower tempo and inhale and exhale along with it. If you're playing music, focus on the notes and having fun. Don't concentrate on the random flubs. Who knows, you might even unlock new creative spaces, which is always exciting?
3. Accomplishment: Learning a new skill like playing the guitar gives you a feeling of accomplishment. That tricky chord or unsurmountable riff? Just take them one step at a time, and you'll eventually crack the code, which in turn can boost self-esteem and elicit positive vibes.
4. Stimulation: It's easy to get lost in the static of binge watching trashy television when you feel stressed and need to escape. But are you really achieving anything when staring mindlessly at the latest drama on Real Housewives? Perhaps it's a better idea to chill out with a guitar in your hands or an album on the stereo, actually stimulating your brain while unwinding.
5. Socialization: Playing music can also be a social endeavor. Jamming with others helps you connect with other people with the same interests, and even if their skill level is more advanced than what you're comfortable with, you can still have fun and learn something new.
These benefits have also shown up in several recent clinical studies. For centuries, people have used music as a way to evoke their emotions - the highs and lows and everything in between.
In his 2013 study, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, psychologist Daniel J. Levitin, PhD, who studies the neuroscience of music at McGill University in Montreal, noted that listening to "relaxing music" has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety in patients undergoing invasive medical procedures and those recovering from those procedures.
The study also found that in real-world tasks, music can prevent stress-related increases in heart rate and blood pressure - in turn lowering the stress hormone cortisol - compared to silence.
Another recent study from the University of Alberta focused on the link between music and stress and how it affects pediatric patients in the emergency room. The trail of 42 children between ages 3 and 11 demonstrated that those who listened to music while getting an IV reported significantly less pain and distress.
"We did find a difference in the children's reported pain - the children in the music group had less pain immediately after the procedure," said Alberta Professor of Pediatrics Lisa Hartling, PhD. "The finding is clinically important and it's a simple intervention that can make a big difference. Playing music for kids during painful medical procedures would be an inexpensive and easy-to-use intervention in clinical settings."
Stress can strike anyone at any time, whether it's anxiety about a medical procedure, work or home life. But it's clear that music can offer a safe and welcoming place when you feel the weight of stress weighing you down. Reducing stress is just one of the benefits of playing music, and as outlined here, it's a big one. There are a lot more to consider, however.
The writer is a guitarist
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