Certain Types of Music Can Help Lower Anxiety

Anxiety can cause feelings of worry, panic and apprehension. Physically, people who experience high levels of anxiety also have elevated heart rates, muscle tension and increased cortisol production. Many of the treatments used for anxiety include relaxation and meditation techniques designed to address the physical and emotional symptoms of the problem. “As well as being a potential benefit in circumstances such as those mentioned above, music as a relaxation aid is also used extensively within receptive music,” said Dave Elliott of the University of Cumbria in Carlisle, UK. “Indeed, the American Music Therapy Association (2010) cites stress reduction as being one of the major goals of music therapy.”

Elliott and his colleagues conducted a study to determine which characteristics of music and music selection relieved anxiety the most. “In particular we aimed to (a) provide detailed information on the characteristics of relaxing music; (b) determine which music components (e.g., tempo, melody, harmony) are considered to be most important to relaxation; (c) establish which music genres are most appropriate for this application; and (d) record the emotions induced by listening to relaxing music.” The researchers enlisted 84 participants for their study and chose from several music styles and had them rate the selection of music, the relaxing qualities of the music and the emotions they felt when listening to the music. The participants were also asked if they liked the music and if it was familiar to them.

The results revealed the musical selections rated the most relaxing by the participants had unique qualities that differed significantly from the other selections. “Specifically, in relaxing pieces, the melodic progressions were more likely to ascend (progress from low notes to high) and contain a narrow interval,” said Elliott. “In other words, the sounds were harmonious.” Elliott added, “The most common labels for the relaxing tracks were, ‘peaceful,’ ‘serenity,’ ‘sadness’ and ‘joy.’ This implies that as well as bringing about a relaxing state, music should also provoke feelings that are generally associated with an increase in arousal.” Elliott hopes these findings help researchers and clinicians provide clients with more suitable options for the reduction of anxiety symptoms using music therapy.

Reference:
Elliott, D., Polman, R., and McGregor, R. (2011). Relaxing music for anxiety control. Journal of Music Therapy, 48.3 : 264-288. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Grace

    November 1st, 2011 at 5:14 PM

    No classical music for this girl! When I am stressed and need to relax it is some heavy rock n roll that I need. This is a great outlet for me. I can really belt out my emotions and work through any stress that I may be feeling. I know that this is not the solution for everyone. There are those who need soothing relaxation and quiet. But for me it is all about the heavy and the beat that is therapeutic. I like that no holds barred effect that it has on me, like I can let it all go and that everything will be okay.

  • auramac

    November 1st, 2011 at 7:30 PM

    Can’t generalize music, nor people. Also, it’s important to note that anxiety, and all emotion, varies. Sometimes rock ‘n roll will help me vent, escape, or lift me up. If my nerves are shot, or even if they aren’t, and you play most country, opera, or hiphop, I will not be happy at all!

  • Samantha.J

    November 1st, 2011 at 11:40 PM

    It doesn’t need an expert to say that music is relaxing and works great against stress and anxiety…We’ve used music for this very purpose for hundreds and thousands of years and integrating it into the modern system only makes sense.

  • abbe

    November 2nd, 2011 at 7:50 AM

    oh music can work wonders! different kinds of music can do different things for you- like if I’m feeling low I listen to some soft music and it gradually makes me feel better. if I’m happy and feel a lot of energy then some of the faster and more energetic genres help to amplify the fun.
    I don’t think any other medium other than music has the capability to help in all moods!

  • Minnie Brands

    November 2nd, 2011 at 3:23 PM

    Gee, aren’t they a bit late to the party on that “revelation”. Instead of having a big study a walk through any music store would have told them that. There’s a whole niche devoted purely to chillout music that uses soft-sounding and relaxing music. All they would have had to do was look at the top selling albums.

    Everyone knows music provokes emotional responses. It’s why we have had it in our cultures since the ancient days.

  • A.S.

    November 2nd, 2011 at 5:54 PM

    I’m not keen on relaxation music that involves lyrics, regardless of how beautiful the melody. It’s too distracting and stops me from getting into that daydream mode I’m seeking.

    Instrumentals are more pleasant. I want to listen to music more as background noise than for it to be in my face, and that goes for any kind.

  • Brett Y. Moore

    November 2nd, 2011 at 6:29 PM

    You can go to YouTube and find thousands of videos that incorporate peaceful, soothing relaxation music. Just search it under those kind of terms. You have the added bonus of visualizations to watch while listening. I’ve zoned out happily quite a few times listening to them. :) Ten minutes watching one will set you up for a more pleasant day.

  • O.C.

    November 2nd, 2011 at 11:50 PM

    Music is the quickest way to change your mood I find. If you’re having a hard day, put your headphones on and take a break awhile there or have favorite tracks playing while you’re doing something else. I like to listen to Last.fm, a free online radio station that is also wonderful for discovering ambient relaxing music. It has several channels devoted to chillout music, some of which I would class as New Age type music, as well as more ancient and religiously based songs by Tibetan monks and Buddhists for example.

    Half an hour there is like pressing the reset button for me. :)

  • Brendan G. Webb

    November 2nd, 2011 at 11:55 PM

    Hardly Nobel prize winning findings there from that body of research, now is it! I don’t see anyone chilling out to thrash metal lately, so yeah of course certain types can and certain types can’t. That’s commonsense.

  • Johnny G.

    November 3rd, 2011 at 1:23 AM

    That’s true, certain types of music can help lower anxiety. And it’s important to note that certain types can also accelerate or worsen your anxiety too. If you listen to some heavy metal or any pounding, heavy rock music really, it can make you more jumpy than you are already with the jarring chords.

  • Leona Price

    November 5th, 2011 at 3:41 AM

    @Johnny G.– You’re so right! Me, I can’t stand long-winded guitar solos. Jimi Hendrix sets my teeth on edge. I could never listen to him play without feeling agitated. Apologies to any big fans out there and I know he’s held up as a musical genius but it grates on my nerves like nails on a blackboard. Don’t get me started about Motorhead.

  • Marcella Vance

    November 5th, 2011 at 3:02 PM

    @auramac-I have to agree. Like Grace I can listen to any kind of music and easily unwind. Ironically, relaxing music annoys the heck out of me to the point where I’m about to flip a table.

    I don’t know what it is about it that I don’t like either. I simply don’t like it. I can’t last more than two tracks of music by Chris Cozens my brother has without having to get out of earshot.

  • Stacey Cole

    November 5th, 2011 at 3:36 PM

    @Grace: You’re quite right that it’s not for everyone. You say you don’t like classical, and I rarely listen to anything else. When I do though I tend to have a strong leaning to gothic metal by groups like Nox Arcana. You would probably like them.

  • Joey Holt

    November 5th, 2011 at 4:03 PM

    @Stacey Cole: I gave them a listen after reading your comment, and I find most of their works to be a bit too somber for my liking. However their music admittedly does calm your emotions and neutralize your more pressing ones very well. That’s a nice find for me as I honestly wasn’t expecting much from that! Thanks for mentioning them.

  • Sherry

    August 9th, 2015 at 8:27 PM

    I really enjoy Celtic music, and Enya is at the top of my list.

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