Trick Your Mind: The Science of Using Relaxing Music to Beat Stress
This week is International Stress Awareness Week; we’re looking at music and mental health. It’s no secret that many of us are overwhelmed by the increasing pressures of everyday life. Truth be told – stress is inevitable, but it should also be manageable.
It’s well known that music affects us emotionally (we’re looking at you, Adele). Decades of scientific study have repeatedly proven that music is extremely powerful at eliciting and reinforcing our feelings. In fact, a survey by UK mental health charity MIND found that over a third of British workers use music to lift themselves out of a funk (pun fully intended). We’ve taken a look through these findings to the science behind how music can be used to change our mood.
First, the basics. Enjoying music releases dopamine; a neurochemical associated with joy; also prompted by enjoying food or sex. Broadly speaking, ‘happy music’ has been shown to increase breathing and heartbeat; ‘sad music’ correlates with a lower pulse, but higher blood pressure. Both effects have obvious uses when wanting to alter your mood.
Some sounds can cause an almost trance-like state. For example, if you listen to a tone of 310Hz in your left ear and 300Hz in your right ear, your brain will make up the difference and ‘hear’ an imaginary tone of 10Hz. This imaginary tone (or ‘auditory illusion’) is called a binaural beat, which can be used to induce different states of relaxation.
Some sounds are tailored specifically to introduce similar effects. The British Academy of Sound Therapy (BAST) claim that using sounds in a particular way influences physiology and emotion. Similar to yoga or meditation, BAST use audio to introduce an ‘altered state of consciousness’ wherein the mind is aware but not in its typical condition.
‘Weightless’, produced by Marconi Union in collaboration with BAST, serves this purpose. It’s a beautiful track designed to help lower listeners’ heart rate by gradually dropping the tempo from 60 to 50 bpm over 8 minutes, with knock-on positive effects on blood pressure and stress levels. Sampled natural sounds lull users into a sense of security, while low bass elicits a ‘trance-like’ state. Following an associated study, it was recommended that users did not listen while driving.
Similarly, sound therapy has is used to treat anxiety and loneliness and speed recovery in mainstream medicine. Because of the strong link between music and memory (everyone has a song that reminds them of their childhood, their teenage rebellion, or their first heartbreak), there is an increasing body of evidence that shows strong retention of music heard during youth. This link has been shown to trigger powerful responses from dementia patients, for example.
So there you have it. Science says your favourite sounds are more powerful than you think, and listening can be a good way to take a mental step back from stress and anxiety. Use them to transport yourself to a happy place in memory, to restore some energy and positivity to your day, or alternatively, tune into music specifically designed to chill you out.
What’s the best tool to pair with relaxing music? If music frees your mind, then RHA is here to help you achieve a liberated listening experience; helping turn the noise around you down, and your own beats up.
For more ways to improve your mental health, head to:
MIND (UK): https://www.mind.org.uk/
NAMI (USA): https://www.nami.org/
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