Managing Stress in Extraordinary Times: Let Music Soothe Your Soul

"There's no half-singing in the shower, you're either a rock star or an opera diva."

Josh Groban

And so it continues. Most of us still sheltering in our homes, working from home, living and trying to come up with yet another interesting thing for dinner.  Or at least a dinner that people won’t grumble about.  We know that many of you are using bathtime as a form of self-care. We're seeing a lot of bath bombs move off the shelf! It seems that for many, the last week has been particularly stressful.  Maybe it’s just that we are tired of doing this or maybe we are starting to think about what “the new normal” will look like.  We are in week three (at least) of limiting our movement outside the home, and also week three of Stress Awareness Month.  Over the last two weeks, we’ve talked about exercise and meditation as ways to help manage stress and anxiety.  (You can find those articles here.)  

As we enter another week of pandemic management, it’s time to think about self-care differently.  This week, we're talking about the role music can play in helping manage the stress and anxiety we are all feeling.  If you have let the never-ending drone of the news be your background noise, may we suggest it’s time to turn off the news and turn on the music?

Whether you need to find a way to ease into sleep or the energy  (and patience!) to survive another Zoom meeting, music may be the answer.   

Christina Wood is a music therapist and owner of Healing Rhythms Music Therapy in Rochester, Minn. (https://www.healingrhythmsmt.com/meet-the-therapists) She and her team provide music therapy in clinical settings as well as online.  Music therapists are allied health professionals with many years of education and training, including clinical training in a variety of settings.  They work with other health professionals to help clients achieve a variety of goals, including pain management and helping children learn to speak.  Music therapy is not a new profession, but it is getting a lot of attention.  Last fall, the National Institute of Health announced $20 million in funding for clinical research into the ways music may influence physical as well as mental health.

Not musical?  It doesn’t matter. Music is the means to the end you are seeking, whether that is decreasing anxiety and stress, improving coping skills, decreasing pain, or processing your emotions. 

There is a technical explanation about why we respond to music and it involves the neuroscience of how music is processed in the brain.  On the other hand, according to Christina, you don’t need to get too technical.  It’s easy to understand how music can help with anxiety if you think about the way you feel when you hear your favorite song.  “You hear it and it takes you back to a place and time in your life that was more carefree or that bring you joy.”  She goes on to note that “music’s effect on your brain also affects your emotions…and can help motivate you to work out or clean your house just like it can equally cause you to cry.”

The type of music you choose is personal, but so long as it speaks to you, it can help with anxiety.  Just recognize that some music is more suited to motivating you to move and some, especially music without lyrics, is better for relaxing or lulling you to sleep. For relaxation, Christina has a couple of favorites, including Daniel Kobialka (widely available, including on Spotify and Apple Music) and Christian Nielsen, a music therapist and friend of Christina’s.  (https://www.christiannielsenmusic.com/)

While music is great for managing our individual anxiety, it also brings us together.  Whether you are dancing along at a summer rock festival or enjoying the cannon fire in the 1812 Overture on the Fourth of July, chances are you are sharing the experience with hundreds of others.  And, while we can’t enjoy those kinds of experiences in person right now, we can always turn to the internet. 

In addition to finding classical concerts online (The Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic) you can find less formal musical moments.  This flash-mob video makes me smile every single time I watch, and I notice something new each time.  I especially love to watch the kids as they dance and conduct along with the music.  It’s the perfect antidote to feeling alone.  Not a classical fan?  Check out this list from Billboard Magazine. 

Looking for a playlist?  How about “Your Science-Approved Anti-Anxiety Playlist” on Spotify? 

You may have noticed how many musicians are sharing their talent online right now.  There’s a reason for that – they know the healing power of music, plus they feel compelled to make music to work through their own anxiety right now.  If you enjoy making music, consider creating a video for a family member or friend who is far from you.  It doesn’t have to be professional quality, or even particularly tuneful, the act of creating something is therapeutic and there is no better feeling than the one that comes from doing something kind for someone else. 

Since the beginning of time (literally!) people have turned to music to express happiness and sadness, to be lifted up, to share joy and sorrow, and to give voice to feelings and emotions when words fail us.  Whether you participate in this adventure by being an avid listener, taking the starring role in your shower,  or by being a professional musician, you are part of the song of life.  Find the music that speaks to you, turn it up and let go. 

What music are you using to help get you through this challenging time?  We’d love to hear from you – drop us a note down below, or find us on Instagram or Facebook


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