Music as Medicine: How Music Reduces Stress and Keeps You Calm

music as medicine
Maybe you like to light some candles, meditate or do breathing exercises, practice yoga, go for a walk in nature, or vent to friends. There are many ways to calm yourself down and release stress and anxiety–in fact, all of the ones I just mentioned are good options. But there is well-documented and pretty astounding proof of music’s amazing power to reduce stress–in people of all ages!
The American Psychological Association cites a study that shows that singing lullabies to premature babies in the NICU slows their heart rate–even more so than an instrument that simulates the sounds of the womb. Singing also increased the amount of time the babies stayed quietly alert.
For people just a few years older, listening to relaxing music helped calm down pediatric emergency room patients while they were getting IVs inserted. These children also reported less pain than those patients who didn’t listen to any music.

And adults? Do we still have the ability to be affected? The science says yes. Harvard Medical School ‘s Health blog cites a study in which a group of patients undergoing surgery listened to music of their choosing before, during and after their operations; another group didn’t listen to anything. The group that listened to music had significantly lower blood pressure than the control group, and this continued to be true during recovery. Music has also been shown to reduce cortisol levels–the stress hormone that is in control of your “flight or fight” reflex, as well as your moods, motivation, energy, and much more.

But what about for people not undergoing objectively stressful medical procedures? Can music really calm you down before a big job interview, after your boss yells at you, when you’ve just gotten bad news, or when you’ve taken on too many projects and don’t have any time? A meta-review investigating music’s effect on brain chemistry published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences found that music helps the brain produce chemical messengers such as oxytocin (the “love hormone”) as well as dopamine, leading to social bonding; it also activates areas of the brain connected to emotion regulation and social responses. 
Lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, less pain, and the ability regulate emotions? Pop on some Beethoven ASAP! But one important thing to keep in mind: the science suggests that people get the most benefit out of music and its stress-reducing capabilities when they engage in music together. The combination of social bonding, vibrations and rhythm works its magic on the human brain and limbic system to create a profound sense of calm, release, and well-being. So grab a chair and pull up to that drum circle in the park!