Neuroscientists Say Music Can Help Reduce Your Anxiety Levels

A man floating in a relaxing fashion on water

Photo by Rojan Maguyon from Pexels

“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” — Confucius

Almost every single one of us enjoys being enveloped in the sounds we love. You know which music calms you. What songs get you up off your feet and dancing.

Which annoying track you can’t get out of your head no matter how hard you try.

“Opp, opp, opp. Oppa Gangnam style!”

Sorry.

Scientists now call these ‘earworms’ and they have a scientific formula for estimating which ones annoy you the most.

Receptiveness + (predictability-surprise) + (melodic potency) + (rhythmic repetition x1.5) = Earworm

But luckily, not all scientists are out there teaching the next Justin Biebers of the world how to annoy us to the point of Van Gohging our ears off.

Some took it upon themselves to figure out how to do the exact opposite of an earworm.

They figured out how to relax us with songs instead.

Feel like floating?

In 2011, a band called Marconi Union teamed up with a master in applied music psychology, Lyz Cooper, to create the most relaxing song in the world.

That song’s title?

Weightless

A fitting name for a song that was later proven to be even more relaxing than a full body massage, according to one small study.

The experiment consisted of 20 women who were tested for skin conductance (EDA), heart rate variability, and breathing rate.

They listened to a randomized list of songs that was previously curated by 10 employees helping with the experiment from a long list of potential tunes.

I don’t think Bieber’s Shakespearan classic lines of “baby, baby, baby, oh” were included in the selection, unfortunately for people with no taste.

The results of the study showed Weightless achieved an “overall relaxation score” of 73%. Outranking a soothing massage (68%) and the other curated songs (62%) by a slight margin.

Overall, the study authors state the subjects experienced a 65% reduction in overall anxiety after listening to the song for 8 minutes.

While not a hugely robust study, it still points out the power of melodies to change our moods and how we want to feel.

Music is proven to help us relax

This study wasn’t alone in its premise. Researchers have been testing the concept for a long time, and they almost always find a high correlation between lower indicators of stress and calming music.

Researchers at the University of Nevada recommend a few things to look for when trying to find music that has a positive effect on your stress and anxiety.

  1. You need to like the music you’re listening to
  2. The music must feel relaxing to you
  3. Songs with a beat of roughly 60 beats per minute are ideal

The idea of the 60 beats per minute is it helps the brain synchronize with the flow of the song and induces alpha brainwaves. These are the same types of brainwaves that appear when we are both awake and chilled out.

What types of songs relax us?

Some of the researchers’ selections may surprise you:

  • Native American, Celtic, and Indian songs containing stringed instruments, drums, or flutes
  • Nature sounds — including rain, rivers, and thunder background sounds
  • Classical music
  • Light jazz
  • ‘Easy listening’ playlists

Another study looked at the differences in situational relaxation. They wanted to know how people’s bodies reacted to music before, during, and after a stressful situation.

One of their more surprising results was in how the subjects’ bodies reacted — those listening to music had a much quicker recovery time.

Their autonomic systems (think of heart rate, breathing, etc) moved back to normal stress levels faster if they were listening to relaxing music or nature sounds.

Not only can music help us relax when we set aside a part of our day to chill out, but it also seems we should be using it immediately after stressful situations as well.

I don’t know about you, but the thought of being able to wind down much quicker after an unfortunate argument sounds great in my books.

The weightless soundtrack

So the next time your boss is stressing you out for not coming up with ‘his’ ideas faster — go for a walk, pop-on some earphones, and chill out to some peaceful tunes.

And if coworker Frank ate your delicious leftover Reuben sandwich for the 5th time today, you might need to bring out the big guns like Weightless by Marconi Union.

Or if you’re getting too chilled out from that song, try any of the other 16 curated tracks they used in the study.

They were all rated by the participants as helping them become more relaxed, so they can probably help you cool down too.

I collected them into a Spotify playlist for easy listening too.

Feel free to check it out!

What tunes do you use to calm down and unwind when you’re looking to escape the stress of the day?

Let me know so I can be sure to add them to the playlist!

(No Bieber fever allowed.)


J.J. Pryor

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