Throughout my career as a music therapist I have worked in many settings – brain injury rehabilitation, dementia care, palliative care, in schools with children with cognitive disabilities, and with those facing high levels of stress in their day to day work life. Although on the surface all of these populations are uniquely different, there are many feelings that affects each of them – including anxiety.
Regardless of age, ability, affluence or current situation, we have come to understand that anxiety affects many if not most people in different duration or severity at one point or more in their life. We also know that how we feel affects how quickly we heal ( https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3052954/).
The evidence to music’s impact on anxiety is growing and certified music therapists are leveraging this knowledge to ensure that the right music intervention, at the right time, in the right way is used to curb symptoms and provide strategy to those looking to decrease their anxiety and restore their overall health.
As long as humans have communicated with drums, hummed their babies to sleep and kicked up their heels to popular rhythms of their time, music has provided a sense of well-being by lifting spirits and calming nerves.
Scientific studies have attempted to measure the potential benefits of music. Here are a few examples:
- Listening to music increases our immunity as more natural killer cells (which attack harmful bacteria and germs) are produced and reduces cortisol (our stress hormone) in the body. http://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/node/18455
- Individuals exposed to self-selected relaxation music after exposure to a stressor (including medical treatments) will demonstrate significant reductions in feelings of anxiety and have an increase in feelings of relaxation as compared to those who sit in silence. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2702.2004.01103.x/abstract;jsessionid=29BADB0B5914F37B98595198561DC0EC.f01t01?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false
- Music reduces agitation in patients living with dementia while helping to enhance emotional wellbeing and increasing meaningful social interactions. http://www.nursingtimes.net/Journals/2014/08/01/l/l/o/060814-Music-therapy-to-reduce-agitation-in-dementia.pdf
- Although recorded music may risk overstimulating the senses of premature infants, live music has been found to be extremely effective. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/131/5/902
Music Therapists incorporate this information along with their extensive clinical experience, facilitation skills, counselling knowledge, and music-based interventions to determine course of treatment and care. Music therapists take time to build a relationship with their clients to help them tune into their feelings and reach their desired goals.
Music therapists incorporate a variety of tempos, tones, rhythms, melodies and lyrics that will support the client’s desired mood state. One of the best ways I have experienced patients move from super-high anxiety states, to calmer more cognitive states, has been through rhythm and a change of tempo (speed of the music). Here are some other examples of what can happen in a music therapy session:
- The music therapist designs a session to help participants who are incarcerated to feel at ease in a group situation. Through a program plan (that uses music based counselling sessions, 20 minutes of drumming, identifying how the music made them feel, and addressing their history of music in their lives) the music therapist is able to capture the feedback required to address the needs of the group: information about the participant’s childhoods, if they have the capacity to feel soothed or or if they are more comfortable in an excited state, how comfortable the participant feels when experiencing something new – just to name a few. This assessment leads to further treatment planning with the ultimate aim of helping people identify their feelings, heal their traumas, decrease their stressors and learn to self-regulate any destructive behaviours they may have.
- Music therapist’s use melodies and rhythms to connect with individuals with dementia who are feeling confused about their unrecognizable surroundings (a hospital vs. home). By assessing favourite songs, sitting in the best proximity for engagement and responding to physical responses (toes tapping, facial changes depicting recognition) music therapists can move the individual from confusion to the more desired state of comfort. Group programming will also help with social connections.
But music therapy is not just effective during a health crisis or challenge. Music Therapy should also be considered as a preventative option when addressing stress and anxiety during all the times in your life. Perhaps the next time you are wanting to feel a bit better you may want to consider booking a session with a music therapist.
You may also want to increase your music exposure in your own home. In a recent article on this site (anxiety.org) Music Therapist Jennie Cooke provides detailed instructions on how to create a stress reducing playlist. Such activities assist the general population in using music more intentionally for their mental wellness https://www.anxiety.org/music-therapy-stress-reducing-playlist
If activities such as this seem overwhelming then it is best to consult with a music therapist in your area. They will work with you and help you figure out your next, best step.