It’s no secret that stress and irritability are common issues that affect many people in their day-to-day lives. Heavy workloads, family obligations, financial pressures, and health problems are just some of the potential stressors that can contribute to feeling overwhelmed, on-edge, and short-tempered. While dealing with the root causes of stress is ideal, this isn’t always feasible in the moment when your stress levels are already high. This is where music can come in handy as a simple yet powerful stress-reliever.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that listening to music has measurable positive effects on stress reduction. When feeling stressed or irritable, listening to music you enjoy causes your brain to release dopamine which can put you in a better mood. Music also helps lower the stress hormone cortisol. One study found levels of cortisol were lower in surgeons listening to their preferred music compared to those who operated in silence. Listening to relaxing music has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate, which also helps mitigate the physical effects of stress.
Music affects stress and irritability largely by shifting our focus. When we actively listen to music, we’re less likely to ruminate on stressful thoughts. The combination of melody, rhythm, and lyrics gives our brains something positive and pleasurable to process. This distraction provides a mental break from whatever is causing us to feel on-edge. Additionally, music can help us better cope with pain or discomfort that may be exacerbating irritability. Research indicates music therapy is effective for reducing pain in cases ranging from childbirth to cancer treatment.
While individual musical preferences vary greatly, there are some common characteristics of music that can induce a calming effect especially helpful for relieving stress. Gentle rhythms, sustained chords, and slow tempos tend to be more relaxing. Nature sounds such as ocean waves or bird songs layered into compositions add peaceful elements. Lyrics emphasizing hope, gratitude, or love often have an uplifting, mood-boosting impact. Alternatively, venting anger or sadness through aggressive or gloomy music can provide a healthy emotional release.
It’s advisable to create playlists of your go-to stress-relieving music so they are easily accessible whenever needed. Here are five examples of soothing songs and genres worth including:
- Classical – Pieces by composers such as Mozart, Brahms, or Beethoven in comforting major keys.
- Soft jazz – Gentle improvisational piano like George Winston or acoustic guitar playlists.
- Nature sounds – Recordings of ocean waves, rainfall, or bubbling streams mixed with light music.
- Ambient – New age artists such as Enya or Loren Connors featuring synthesizers.
- Reggae – Mellow positive lyrics and laid-back rhythms like Bob Marley.
The benefits of music are not limited to simply listening. Singing along activates more areas of the brain, further enhancing mood. Playing musical instruments requires focused attention that can stop negative thoughts. Dancing combines physical activity with the joys of music. Share favorite destressing songs with family, friends, and coworkers who may also need musical pick-me-ups.
Life often deals us unavoidable periods of high stress and irritability. While addressing the root causes is ideal, music can provide an easily accessible tool to help temporarily relieve the feelings of being overwhelmed, anxious, or short-tempered. A quick music listening break whenever needed can get you through challenging times. Experiment with different genres and find songs that work best to lift your spirits, take your mind off worries, and reduce tension. The soothing power of music is available whenever you need a calming oasis from the stresses of life.