This one obvious thing is scientifically proven to reduce stress

If you’ve ever felt yourself sitting in front of your computer, pulling your hair out looking at crunched numbers, incomplete Google Docs, or unanswered emails, there’s a particularly infuriating facet that perhaps you’re not acutely aware of: the crushing silence that’s consuming your home office.

Working on location, you would always have co-workers to chat with, or even a podcast to listen to when taking care of more mindless tasks. But right now, listening to someone drone on would just make you want to scream, and the quiet is encroaching more on your sanity with every second. What’s there to do?

Even doctors will tell you: just turn on some music.

This brand-new meta-analysis from 2020, published by the Health Psychology Review, shows that musical interventions reduce stress-related health outcomes, both physiological and psychological. Hundreds of prior studies were amalgamated to create this conclusive report: music is proven to improve your health in stressful situations.

The way this is done is by executing what doctors call musical “interventions”, which are just ways in which one can use music to intervene with symptoms, and hopefully decrease them. There are two particular interventions specialists recommend that decrease stress and anxiety: music-making, and music listening. With only minimal effort, these interventions can be implemented both at work, and in one’s personal life.

Daily stress

From physical labor to emotional labor, stress has intense and sometimes harmful effects on the body. Even psychological stress one experiences have ways of manifesting physically and is scientifically shown to be “strongly associated with…cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, anxiety disorders, depression, burnout, and addictions.”

These health concerns can become collateral damage to other elements of your life. In 2016, the UK’s Health and Safety Executive issued a report that definitively states that stress-related health issues lead to missing work. If you work for an hourly wage, that means that stress could be impinging on your very livelihood.

Does this really work?

Yes – music really does alleviate stress and has been both historically and scientifically proven to do so. Researchers purport that music has a positive effect on physiological issues, such as “heart rate, blood pressure, and hormonal levels”, and psychological experiences of stress, such as “restlessness, anxiety, and nervousness.

Various neuroimaging studies about the emotional state and musical intervention have shown strong links to the portion of the brain’s limbic system called the amygdala, the portion of the brain that controls emotions or reactions, like anger and sadness. Some scientists say that when the amygdala is “deactivated,” the result can be a feeling of happiness or pleasure – these studies specify that music may be the key to doing so.

Additionally, the decrease of “physiological arousal,” such as “reduction of cortisol levels or decrease in heart rate and blood pressure,” is a helpful effect of musical interventions, as shown by numerous studies over the years.

The low cost, high benefit of musical interventions also contribute to its efficacy. It is low cost – sometimes even no cost – and involves no side effects like some anxiety-reducing drugs might. Rarely does a naturally-occurring force have the “tranquilizing effects” of music without also including potential risk, like some homeopathic remedies.

How does it work?

The most prominent categories of musical intervention include “music activities (like singing or music-making), music listening …and live music therapy.” Usually, in these studies, musical interventions are provided in a more organized fashion by a professional music therapist. But some of them are simple enough to do from home.

Music-making can be anything from singing out-of-tune to beatboxing to the rhythm of the construction outside of your apartment. Even the study says that “self-administered”, such as “singing without the involvement of a music therapist”, it’s shown to be just as helpful. Something as simple as singing along to your favorite song during your lunch break can provide therapeutic effects.

Music listening, which is much easier for those living in a household full of people, is another helpful musical intervention. Different kinds of music fit with different situations, but throughout a high-intensity, anxiety-provoking workday, meditative music might be the perfect compliment. “Music with a slow tempo (60–80 bpm),” the study specifies, “has often been associated with reductions in heart rate, resulting in greater relaxation.”

It’s important to find music that will inspire you, calm you, but not distract you – so something like the Lizzo album you usually belt in the shower wouldn’t be a good fit for working your way through spreadsheets and emails. For especially stressful projects, Spotify and Youtube have entire playlists filled with songs of the recommended beats per minute. If you feel yourself start to get drowsy, however, try some more upbeat meditative jams, like the prolifically known lo-fi hip-hop beats.

And finally, while live music therapy might be harder to accomplish in the era of COVID, there are online music festivals where one can listen to artists play instruments from the comfort of their own homes. San Francisco Bay-area artists recently participated in a 17-hour long “Pandemica” music festival, streaming live around the world on Facebook Live for free. This is certainly not the first nor the last online music event, and chances are, your favorite artist might be performing on a screen near you sometime soon.