Stress and Anxiety… How Can Music Help?

I am sure that every single person that reads this has turned to music on a stressful day. Music serves as a great distractor, a channel for expression and a go to for increasing relaxation. There is more that you can do than simply turning on your iPod and sitting back to listen.

Every person experiences stress at some point in their lives. It may not be too far fetched to say that everyone experiences stress at some point in their day-to-day activities. I know that I constantly feel the pull from the stressors in my life. Listening to music is a great way to decrease stress simply by lying back and relaxing. But there is so much more! Singing for example, oxygenates your body. You are taking in more air than usual to support the phrasing in the song lyrics. You are also releasing built up tension as you exhale and belt out those songs. The louder you sing, the more you are releasing!

In addition I am an advocate for daily Drumming. Banging on a drum is a healthy and safe way to release that pent up stress. Some people like pillows, but I prefer drums. It is fun, a workout, you can interact with others and it is completely safe and easy! Anyone can drum! Pair some singing with that drumming and you are most likely going to feel very relaxed. There are studies by Dr. Barry Bittman that have shown that 30 minutes of active drumming a day increases natural killer cells. These cells fight off and destroy cancer and other viral cells that are unwanted in the body. Did you know that drumming could do that?!? Something to think about!

I like to view anxiety as stress’s little brother. Whenever stress comes around, anxiety is usually close behind. When I worked in the hospital, decreasing anxiety was a very common goal for many of my patients. There are several ways music can address anxiety. This can be as simple as listening to music to calm oneself but you can also take it a step further. I often would sing songs with my patients encouraging them to discuss the lyrics. What did that song mean to you? How can you relate with the singer? Talking about the anxiety is a great way to work through it, and music helps make that resistance of talking about things easier to bypass. Song writing is also a useful technique. I have written songs with patients encouraging them to express those feelings through their own words. A simple example is a song I have used with patients fearing the results of medical tests or procedures… “Down by the Riverside”. This is a simple song which you can change the lyrics to quite easily. Here is an example of a song I wrote with a patient several years ago:

“I’m gonna leave all my worries, at the hospital. At the hospital, at the hospital. I’m going to come out stronger now, when this all is done, and I’m gonna change my unhealthy ways.

I ain’t gonna be sad no more, I ain’t gonna worry no more. I ain’t gonna cry no more! I ain’t gonna be sad no more, I ain’t gonna worry no more. I ain’t gonna cry no more!”

Though the words are very simple, for the patient it was very important to express themselves and their future in a positive way. Positive affirmations if you will. By being positive you can boost your immune system which will lower stress and anxiety levels! And hey, why wouldn’t you want to sing about it and hear your words set to music opposed to just a dialogue? I know I prefer the musical route!

These are a just a few examples of how music can improve  your stress levels and help deal with that anxiety. I invite you to think about the stressors in your day and how you deal with them. If you are using music, think about HOW you are using music and what more you can do with music to lower that stress. If you are not using music, I encourage you to try it. I do stress the importance of MATCHING YOUR MOOD when listening to music. If you are angry and stressed to the max and put on a soothing Debussy peice, you are most likely going to stay stressed. You have to RELEASE that stress and bring yourself down to a more relaxed state. Begin with music that matches how you ARE FEELING and slowly change the music to match how you WANT TO FEEL. This is the most important piece of information to the puzzle of using music to treat anxiety and stress!

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