If there's anything worse than being stressed out, it may be trying to find the time and energy to manage that stress. • So it should come as a relief to hear that simply listening to music can relieve stress without the pressure of learning an entirely new set of skills. • We all know that music helps set the mood. Why else do gyms pulse with upbeat tunes and elegant restaurants favor soothing melodies? • But with just a little extra thought and attention, you can turn your favorite tunes into powerful stress relievers and mood boosters.
First, the background
Music therapy began as a formal profession half a century ago with the discovery that music and music-based activities could help people with mental handicaps and psychiatric disorders. But the use of music in healing actually dates back to ancient times. Ancient Egyptian and Greek artifacts depict music used in healing rituals. Music is embedded in cultural rituals around the world — in healing, celebration, transformation and spiritual and religious practice.
Music therapy draws from this rich history, while also using modern science and psychology to improve physical, emotional, and mental health. Patients with autism, trauma, grief, post-traumatic stress, presurgical anxiety, post-operative pain, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, addictive disorders and neurological disorders such as Parkinson's and Tourette's syndrome all have been helped by music therapy.
But you don't have to have a clinical diagnosis to enjoy the benefits of music therapy.
The key is learning how to use music most effectively to improve our health and well-being.
songs for soothing
Most of us can think of moments when a particular song has evoked memories and emotions. Pay attention to songs that bring feelings of joy, pleasure or hope. Begin to make a list, or better yet, create a playlist for your iPod that includes uplifting songs that create positive feelings for you. Listen to these songs when you are feeling stressed or in a low mood — or really, anytime.
The songs you choose may be from any genre — popular, alternative, folk, jazz, classical or New Age music. What works well for one person may not evoke much of an emotional response at all in another. Remember, it is not only the lyrics that matter; the energy or soothing nature of the music itself can bring comfort and relief.
get the anger out
Maybe you are feeling particularly angry or frustrated — common responses in today's tough economic climate.
These emotions are signals that we're feeling threatened, vulnerable, fearful or possibly out of control. Fine, you might say, but what if you can't do anything about the source of the trouble?
That's when it's crucial to reduce the intensity of the response. Music can be used to "vent" some of the overwhelming emotion and bring us to a more moderate emotional state. Then we're in a better place to find solutions.
Here's where you put away the soothing New Age music and pull out tunes that match your anger and frustration in intensity. You will want to avoid songs with destructive or violent lyrics, as they can intensify rather than reduce your anger or frustration.
As you listen to the music — it will probably have a fast beat, loud bass or percussion, heavier lyrics — really pay attention to how the music feels in your body. Focus your breathing and acknowledge the intense thoughts or body sensations you're experiencing.
Then start switching to songs that are a little less intense, gradually moving toward selections that are more and more soothing and upbeat. It may be helpful to create a playlist or CD for yourself ahead of time, especially if you tend to experience frequent excess stress, anger or frustration.
Music also can help increase mental focus and concentration. In studies, Baroque music, such as chamber or orchestral pieces by Handel, have been found to help people focus on tasks even more than when those tasks are performed in silence.
It seems that the ordered nature and pacing of this style of music are compatible with keeping attention to detail. Even if you are not a classical music fan, it may be helpful to play Baroque music at times when you seem distracted and need to concentrate.
ups and downs
Sometimes we want to increase or decrease our energy. Anyone who has cranked up their favorite music during exercise knows that rhythmic and percussive music is great for increasing energy.
Conversely, nonmelodic, slow-paced music, such as that in the New Age genre, can greatly enhance relaxation and meditation. Studies have also shown that listening to soothing music, even without practicing deep breathing or meditation, can bring about a relaxation response in the body.
Lori Kleinman, Ph.D., founder of LiVibrance Wellness Center in St. Petersburg, is a licensed psychologist and music therapist who provides classes, workshops and counseling to enhance well-being. She can be reached at www.livibrance.com or (727) 824-0909.