Music Therapy for Anxiety
How many of us love music? I remember listening to music with a friend of mine in my bedroom growing up. We pretended to play instruments. We would rock out to the music. When all was said and done, we created a connection and bond that only grew when we heard these songs later. I can still remember those songs and when I hear them today I think about my friend.
This shows how powerful music can be. Sometimes it can feel like therapy. It can stir emotions, connect people, help you feel on top of the world, or bring you to a relaxed state. Some genres tend to calm you, others make you happy and encourage you to dance, and others tend to be intense and help you express aggression. Music can create memories that remind us of those we care about in our lives. It can connect us with those around us and inspire us. We even see the effects of it on our thoughts as we allow it to shift us away from focusing on negative situations. What songs do you like that make you feel this way?
All of this is to say that music is moving. For our purposes, we want to show you how music can be a therapeutic tool to help you manage your anxiety. It has the power to calm you in the moment of overwhelming emotions by bringing up good memories or altering thought patterns and even brain waves. Let’s explore this great tool for reducing anxiety.
What does research say about the effect of music on people?
It is important to know if what we are telling you is accurate. We took the time to look at different studies on how music affects people. The following studies show how music can be used to settle you down during an anxiety attack.
Music Helps to Destress
Using music for relaxation can be a great way to destress. According to an article from the University of Nevada, “music around 60 beats per minute can cause the brain to synchronize with the beat causing alpha brainwaves (frequencies from 8 – 14 hertz or cycles per second). This alpha brainwave is what is present when we are relaxed and conscious.” This study shows us that music can impact your brain, telling it to go to a state of calm. Music can also help with a person’s sleep. When it comes to relaxing before sleep, the University of Nevada stated: “To induce sleep (a delta brainwave of 5 hertz), a person may need to devote at least 45 minutes, in a relaxed position, listening to calming music.” If you are having trouble falling asleep, listening to calming music is a technique that you can try.
Music Helps to Calm You
Another study stated that listening to music after being in stressful situations can help to calm you. In particular, the researchers worked with college students who had recently taken high-stress exams. They found that the students’ stress levels were reduced, and they generally felt calmer after sitting with music. Out of diverse genres of music, classical music was found to help the students focus and relax (Labbé et al., 2007).
Music Effects Each of Us Differently
Music can also help us to respond to different situations. According to research,“music listening does not take place in a vacuum, but rather in a context relative to individual scenarios. Therefore, music’s purpose is malleable according to the aim of the individual listener in response to their situation” (Henry et al., 2021). Here we can see that the “malleable” nature
These studies tell us that listening to music can calm you and help with anxiety and stress, but it is highly individualistic. So, it just depends on who you are and what you like. The context changes based on the individual who is listening, thus the music can have different effects on different people.
Focusing exercises: Music Therapy Edition
Instruments and Beat
Find a song that is particularly calming to you and turn it on. Focusing on one particular instrument at a time can help you to focus your mind. Start with focusing on what the drums are doing in the song. What is the beat like? Allow yourself to feel the steadiness of the rhythm. Think of it like a heartbeat, a constant that brings order to the song, keeping all of the other instruments and vocalist at the same time. Next, listen to the sound of the bass guitar. Notice the strumming and how constant it is. The bass is typically closely following the drums and percussions and is known for keeping the beat steady, as well.
Tune in to what the bass is doing. Is the bass soft or is it pronounced? Notice what that steady beat feels like in your body. By focusing on the beat, you are helping ground yourself, specifically your body, into the present moment. Doing this will allow you to feel the physical impact of the music and how it connects us. What other instruments do you notice? Are there any that are more pronounced than others? Finally, pay close attention to how each instrument works together. Do you notice that they complement each other? Or do they seem to sound more in unison as one instrument?
Lyrics and Vocals
Now try to focus on the vocalists. You can do this with the same song or a different song. What do you notice about the singers’ voices? Are there any inflections that they use? By tuning into what you hear in the voices of the singers you are recalibrating your thinking to the sounds and the words instead of your own negative emotions. At the same time, you open yourself up to experiencing the emotions that the music and the lyrics bring up in you.
Now focus on specific lyrics. What do they mean to you? Do you identify with them? How do they relate to your current situation, life, and mood? Sometimes paying attention to the lyrics and the music can help you open up to a new and better perspective about your life. The words that we hear are powerful. They can have a major impact on us. We see in the Bible that God’s Word is “sharper than a two-edged sword.” It also says that “the tongue has the power of life and death…” (Proverbs 18:21). Proverbs 16:24 says, “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” If our words can do that, then what goes in our ears has the power to change our emotions and moods.
In my personal experience, music has helped to ground me in the moment, allowing me to focus on the words, the singers’ voices, and the instrument compilations. Music can be a way to focus your mind on something that can be constant in that moment. Additionally, listening to music can be a way to bring back good memories that you cherish, which can bring joy and hope. Using music to relax and destress can be a powerful, and personalized tool that can help you to find the sense of calm that you are looking for.
One last story can cap this idea off for you. I think you will be able to relate. One day I was driving down the road in my car. No one was with me. It had been a hard day and things just were not going my way. I started praying and then had the thought to turn on my favorite Christian radio station. When I turned it on, the song that was playing was a song I remember listening to for the first time with my mom. I always remember that first time. We chatted about how much we liked it and then tried to find out how to get the CD. Some of you youngsters barely know what that is! Yet now when I hear it I feel nostalgia, wishing to be back with Mom sometimes. Yet, I felt glad in my heart because I could sing that song as loud as I wanted. I felt so much better about the day at that moment.
Henry, N., Kayser, D., & Egermann, H. (2021). Music in mood regulation and coping orientations in response to COVID-19 lockdown measures within the United Kingdom. Frontiers in Psychology, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.647879
Labbé, E. E., Schmidt, N., Babin, J., & Pharr, M. (2007). Coping with Stress: The Effectiveness of Different Types of Music. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 32(3–4), 163–168. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10484-007-9043-9
Releasing Stress through the Power of Music | Counseling Services. (n.d.). University of Nevada, Reno. https://www.unr.edu/counseling/virtual-relaxation-room/releasing-stress-through-the-power-of-music#:~:text=Upbeat%20music%20can%20make%20you,these%20personal%20experiences%20with%20music.
Bethany Stanley is a Licensed Associate Professional Counselor. She provides couples counseling and individual counseling as a therapist at Legacy Marriage Resources, LLC based in Augusta, Georgia. Find out more about her in her Bio.