Sometimes, it’s enough to just stop, breathe and be, even if only for a few minutes.
Can listening to music really make significant (i.e. scientifically verifiable) changes in mood?
In short, yes it can.
There’s much anecdotal evidence for this. Some swear by Mozart for studying effectively, mood music clearly affects temperament in mindfulness meditation, for example. And we are probably all familiar with the adolescent ‘choosing to feel down’ choices of sad songs.
But where is the science on this?
In 2019 a randomised controlled study took two groups of participants in their research on adult ADHD. The first group listened to Mozart’s music (KV 448) for 10 min while the second group remained in a silent room for 10 min (silence group). The researchers assessed subjective arousal and mood in participant before and after the intervention and showed that music listening led to a decrease in negative mood (sadness and hopelessness) in the ADHD group as well as in healthy controls. (Zimmermann et al., 2019)
Listening to music before, during, or after surgery significantly decreased patients’ pain and anxiety and reduced their use of pain medications subsequent to surgery. (Mayor, 2015)
In looked into the effects of music on rats which had been heavily treated with simvastatin ( which is used to lower cholesterol for those diagnosed with high blood cholesterol. It’s also taken to prevent heart disease, including heart attacks and strokes). Rats exposed to music (Mozart’s piano sonata, KV361 in this case) 24 hours before a stress-induing maze exercise showed reduced anxiety levels compared to control groups (da Cruz et al., 2001). Of course, we can’t be certain that this transfers to human experience, but we can hypothesise that it probably would.
Another interesting study in 2020 considered the effects of music on pregnant women. Their research concluded that ‘Music combination between murotal and music kitaro has a significant effect on reducing anxiety of third trimester pregnant women.’ (Sumaningsih et al., 2020)
Another recent study specifically researching undergraduates’ responses to music listening found that music provided regulation in preparation for stressful events and that music listening increases mindfulness following a stressor. (Groarke et al., 2019)
This is a far from comprehensive review of the current literature, just 5 studies. There are hundreds. The renowned neurologist Dr. Michael Schneck has shown that classical music helps relieve anxiety. Other studies have found that it also increases blood flow by 26%, laughter by 16% and relaxation by 11%.
How does the science translate actions you can take to reduce anxiety and stress?
We know that connecting with other people who are going through the same things we are – think support groups – is a very effective way to get over any mental health challenge. Similarly, sad and melancholic music can achieve the same thing. Sad music validates our own emotions of sorrow, grief or loneliness and permits us to feel them more fully.
You can try simple experiments yourself, with your own choices of music, journalling your responses and finding your own very personal cocktail for well-being. Sitting and intentionally listening to music can be a powerful way of re-centering yourself and connecting to the present moment.
Why not build ten minutes of music into your daily routines and see what happens?
da Cruz, J. G. P., Dal Magro, D. D., de Lima, D. D., & da Cruz, J. N. (2001). The Power of Classic Music to Reduce Anxiety in Rats Treated with Simvastatin. Basic and Clinical Neuroscience, 2(4), 5–11. Iran University of Medical Sciences.
Groarke, J. M., Groarke, A., Hogan, M. J., Costello, L., & Lynch, D. (2019). Does Listening to Music Regulate Negative Affect in a Stressful Situation? Examining the Effects of Self‐Selected and Researcher‐Selected Music Using Both Silent and Active Controls. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. https://doi.org/10.1111/aphw.12185
Mayor, S. (2015). Listening to music helps reduce pain and anxiety after surgery, review shows: BMJ, h4398. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h4398
Sumaningsih, R. `, Rahayu, T. P., & Santosa, B. J. (2020). Effects of Classical Music, Natural and Murottal Music on Fetal Well-Being. Health Notions, 4(7), 222–225. https://doi.org/10.33846/hn40704
Zimmermann, M. B., Diers, K., Strunz, L., Scherbaum, N., & Mette, C. (2019). Listening to Mozart Improves Current Mood in Adult ADHD – A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. Frontiers in Psychology, 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01104
My ‘Mindfulness with Children’ course is available on Insight Timer. It’s aimed at both parents and professionals working with kids.
You can access the course here. http://insig.ht/course_scott-langston
Gratitude, or being thankful, seems to have become a wellbeing buzzword. Searching the terms will find thousands of articles like this one, championing the real power that gratitude can have in your day-to-day wellbeing.
You’d be forgiven for being skeptical.
But here’s the thing. As a society, we used to practice gratitude in a big way. And as an increasingly secular society we still can, and perhaps should.
Throughout much of our history, we’ve been religious beings, with a capital R. Motivations have evolved over time, but essentially this was in response to a threatening world and ignorance of natural processes. Scared of the storm? Take solace in the all-powerful entity to protect you. And when you have survived, thank him (it’s usually him, isn’t it?) Even at its most banal, the brief ‘Thank you Lord for the food we are about it eat’ is an expression of gratitude and thanks.
But it’s thanks to something exterior. Gratitude expressed to another. An acknowledgement that the locus of control is outside of us, in the hands of the other.
There’s another way.
We can simply be thankful. Literally, full of thanks. We can be grateful. Full of gratitude. The Latin roots of the word can be expressed as having appreciation and expressing thankfulness. And whilst we tend to associate that with the other, having done something for us, we can just sit with the feeling of gratitude in quietude and simply be. You can be grateful for a sunny day, a meal, being free from pain – the list is endless. It is a way of recognising the good, and celebrating it.
You can try a simple and free gratitude mediation here.
If you would like to know more about the fascinating scientific research behind gratitude, you can begin here.
One increasingly popular way of focusing on gratitude daily, and expressing it, is to keep a gratitude journal. Find 3 things a day for which you are grateful. There are numerous examples online to guide you in this process. Writing them done strengthens their influence and solidifies the positive effects of expressing gratitude. (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
Here are some interesting links to explore this further:
How to start a gratitude practice
Thanks for reading.
and not just for kids.. Leave Your Worries Behind You
MBSR is a thing. And has been for a long time. But today, it is perhaps a ‘thing’ that you could turn to if isolation is stressful for you and you’d like to figure out how to be more at ease with this new paradigm.
“Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Palouse Mindfulness is offering a FREE 8 week MSBR course online. I’ve paid for similar courses in the past, so this is an absolute bargain. Find more about it HERE. It is completely free and can even be done anonymously (though I’m not sure why anyone would want to….).
As a response to the crisis, you may have seen on this site that I will offer consultations for free. If you need to talk about your situation, please do get in touch.
. And remember, reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness. Suffering in stoic silence is never the best option.