Can Music Really Reduce Stress?

One need not know how to read or write music to understand and appreciate it or comprehend its unmistakable beauty and therapeutic benefits… Paul Shearstone 2002


In my psychotherapeutic research to find ways to promote better health by relieving tension and stress, I happened on to a tape that spoke about the healing benefits of music. The motivational message was interspersed with Baroque symphony music, which proved not only a respite from what I had been listening to but it also provided a significant relaxing influence. We have all heard the saying, “Music calms the savage beast.” I discovered years ago, it most definitely did for me. For that reason, I began to experiment with all types of music.

I recalled that over the years whenever, I felt stressed, depressed or down, I would sit at the piano and begin to play. The first few songs were always slow and sad but with each new tune, they would get a little quicker and a little happier. Often, after about ten to fifteen minutes of playing, I would notice a marked improvement in the way I was feeling. Remarkably, I discovered I could actually play the sad feelings out of me with music.

No one must remind me about how blessed I am to have been given the opportunity to learn to play the piano. Thanks mom and dad! That said, I still think about how unfortunate it is that everybody does not have a stress-relieving mechanism like playing an instrument for their times of need.

Nevertheless, knowing how to play a musical instrument is of no real benefit for anyone suffering from severe depression. As I pointed out in my book, Until You’ve Walked the Path, you know you are exceedingly depressed or suffering from chronic stress when you cannot or will not do the things that bring you the most pleasure. So, it is comforting to know, music is always there and one need not know how to play an instrument to enjoy its health-promoting benefits. To paraphrase Martha Stewart, “That’s a Good Thing!”

Today I have an entire repertoire of music. Each song has been strategically handpicked for its stress-relieving qualities. Whenever I feel the least bit tired or depressed I will often play a few songs from the library in my computer.

I first determine whether I am feeling a little sad or stressed. There is a difference. My experiments with music-motivation have taught me there is also a difference in the way I remedy the way I feel. For example, if I am just feeling a little stressed from the workday, I can simply play a few sound bites from – what are for me – stress-relieving songs. Two of my favorite are, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin and “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” by Monty Python. While I listen, I will consciously relax in my chair and breathe in and out, slow deep breaths of air. Often, I can recover from feelings of stress in only a few minutes and resume my work.

If, on the other hand, I am experiencing feelings of sadness, I have another approach based on my observations from playing the piano. In my library of music, I have songs that have been specially selected for what I call, their ‘Sadness-Quality’. Simply put, they are sad songs that elicit sad feelings in me whenever they are played, especially when I’m already feeling a little sad. For example, Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Sun’ / Crystal Gayle’s ‘Don’t it make Your Brown Eyes Blue’ and/or Todd Rundgren’s ‘Can’t we still be Friends’. I have an entire collection to use strategically; not unlike one would use a tool – used in this case, to bleed the feelings of sadness out of me – as a first and deliberate step in a program to change the way I feel.

Sometimes it takes only a few songs and other times, it takes quite a few before I can instinctively feel when it is time to introduce a few up-beat and motivational songs as a second step. I have plenty of them too. Uriah Heep’s ‘Easy Livin’ / Chumbawumba’s ‘I get Knocked Down, But I get Up Again’ are two that really move me. In so doing, when I have successfully leached the sadness out of me, they, along with others I’ve selected, serve to elevate me, by promoting feelings of motivation and hope.

What is important to understand is that music – the right music – can be used strategically, like a tool or a stratagem, to elicit a desired emotional response. Important also, is to know that what motivates me to be happy or sad, may not be right for you. Music is personal. The key is to do a little research on your own to determine the right music for you and then, have your songs categorized and ready. They become your personal psychological strategy to reduce feelings of stress and sadness when you need it.

I can say with confidence that this strategy is proven, not just from my own personal experimentation’s but also from some of the psychological research I have done. For example, over the last couple of decades, I know that exhaustive studies were and are still being done on the positive effects of Baroque music and, in particular, music by Mozart. These studies are not just focused on Baroque’s stress relieving qualities but also for its ability to increase one’s ‘left-brain-right-brain’ activities and learning capacities. There is now a new global institute dedicated to what is known as “Super Learning” using music as a subconscious motivator.

The Bottom Line:

Too often, those of us lacking Peak Performance suffering from sadness, fatigue and stress, overlook many of the natural ways human evolution has provided, to garner balance and harmony. The simple fact is, in music, we can find the right remedy, the right motivation and at the same time – stress-relieving – pleasure.

Paul Shearstone MACP, NLP/CCP, is a recognized expert on Sales and Persuasion. International Speaker, Author, Psychotherapeutic Counsellor, Certified Coaching and NLP Practitioner.


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