I love music; I listen to it while driving, working, doing chores, relaxing, and even when I am exercising. And while not everyone likes the same kind, most people would agree that listening to music is a pleasant and oftentimes mood-boosting experience. In fact, music can have such a profound impact on our bodies and our brains that it is now widely used in medical settings as an intervention for a variety of conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and heart disease, in what is known as music therapy.
What is music therapy?
Music therapy is an effective complimentary treatment for many conditions, especially anxiety and depression. Certified music therapists are trained to use music to help clients with all aspects of health, including psychological and physical wellbeing. Activities often include listening to, performing, improvising, or composing music, either alone, in a group, or alongside the therapist. Music can also be combined with other modalities such as movement, art, or imagery.
Music is also often used by medical professionals to help ease discomfort or anxiety during procedures such as surgery, chemotherapy treatments, and mammograms or blood tests.  Studies show that music can effectively reduce pain and anxiety in children undergoing common pediatric medical procedures like blood draws or immunizations.
How does music therapy work?
One of the major reasons music therapy is so effective is that music can shift your focus away from a stressful or uncomfortable event to something pleasant and soothing. In that way, it serves as a distraction. But music therapy does more than just that; music can help to reduce stress and anxiety through multiple pathways. It affects physiological factors like heart rate and hormone levels, modulates the nervous system, and has psychological effects, as well.
Music therapy can suppress the sympathetic nervous system, which is involved with the “flight-or-flight” stress response of the body. Music also triggers the brain to release endorphins, increase dopamine levels, and block pain pathways, all which can help to enhance a sense of wellbeing.[1,2,3] It even can modulate the immune system, as research shows music therapy can increase the production of immune cells produced.
Who can benefit from music therapy?
Research shows that people with a variety of conditions can benefit from music therapy. Some common uses of music therapy include:
- Anxiety. One of the most effective uses of music therapy is in finding natural anxiety relief. Research shows that music can positively influence regions of the brain that manage anxiety and stress, with music therapy able to significantly lower anxiety levels.
- Depression. A large body of research has found that music therapy benefits depression as well.[3,5,6] One review on the subject concluded that in all studies reviewed, listening or making music reduced depression. As mentioned before, listening to music can boost dopamine, which helps treat depression. This therapy may also be useful in treating symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.
- Chronic pain. As music therapy can distract from discomfort and block pain pathways in the brain, it is also useful in managing chronic pain. In one study, listening to music as part of a music therapy intervention each day for 60 days led to significant reduction in pain scores in patients with chronic pain. The intervention also led to lower levels of anxiety and depression in these patients, as well as a reduction in the use of anti-anxiety medications. For more techniques to relieve chronic pain like fibromyalgia, read more here.
- Coronary heart disease. Music therapy helps to reduce anxiety and stress levels in heart disease patients, which is important for keeping healthy with heart problems. What’s more, music therapy can reduce heart rate and blood pressure, too. One review found that music therapy reduces systolic blood pressure by 5.5 mmHg in coronary heart disease patients.
- Pregnancy. Many women experience stress, anxiety, and depression during pregnancy, which can all be helped with music therapy. Listening to a prerecorded music therapy CD for 30 minutes a day for two weeks led to a significant reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression in a group of pregnant women.
Try music therapy for yourself
Whether you want to manage stress better, enhance your mood, or lower your blood pressure, music therapy might be worth a try. Search our natural practitioner directory to find a certified music therapist near you. And the next time you are doing something that you find stressful or painful, pop in some headphones and see if your favorite song can ease your discomfort.
Share your experience
Have you ever tried music therapy? Do you find listening to or making music helps relieve stress or anxiety? What other tips do you have for natural anxiety relief? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.