Updated: Sep 25, 2019
It’s not hyperbolic to say we’re living in stressful times- to quote a song by The Stray Birds, “all the news is bad”. Most adults have dealt with anxiety to some degree, but as a teacher friend says,
“children are the canaries in the coal mine.”
Even if kids don’t have the language to describe what they’re feeling, or the awareness of the causes of stress and anxiety in their environments, they are remarkably sensitive to the world around them.
Kids who aren’t neurotypical might experience more anxiety and have a more difficult time addressing it. Music’s role as a calming force is as old as parenthood- you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who has never heard or sung a lullaby before.
And the research supports what we instinctively know about music- that the presence of relaxing musical stimuli can reduce physiological and psychological responses to stressful situations.
3 Simple Ways to Reduce Anxiety
While working on the root causes of anxiety and/or addressing chronic symptoms may be better served by in-depth treatment, there are several simple ways you can use music in your day-to day to relieve stress and reduce anxiety. These apply both to kids and adults.
1. Listen to “Relaxing Music”
Research supports that classical music has a more relaxing effect than hard rock music , but you probably didn’t need me to tell you that. I find that when I close my eyes and listen mindfully (focusing only on the music as much as I can),. I feel instantly relaxed. A personal favorite is Miles Davis’ Blue in Green. Other good starting points are Debussy or Chopin piano works, and Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”
2. Make Music
I think the act of singing a lullaby is often as relaxing as hearing it- maybe it’s because singing to a crying child makes you feel a little less helpless, maybe it’s just because singing is an inherently healing act. If your child is musically inclined, singing their favorite song, hitting a drum, or strumming a ukulele can be a self-soothing activity. “Better out than in” is a good guideline for musical self-expression; any emotion you can put into your playing is no longer building up inside you. (This is probably why angsty teens form basement rock bands. My mother can attest to this.)
3. Do Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Jacobson’s technique has been in practice for over a hundred years for good reason- it works. The technique was first recommended to me by a trumpet professor, and a lot of working musicians use it to stay relaxed when they perform or take auditions. The technique involves tensing a muscle group for approximately 5 seconds, then relaxing it for approximately 30 seconds. You can find a more in-depth guide to performing Jacobson’s technique here. Pairing this technique with relaxing instrumental music can help pace your progression- you can use the pulse of the music as your counting tool, to keep your breathing nice and slow, and your mind calm.
Hopefully this gives you some ideas of music that might help you and your child de-stress!
Always keep the aphorism “know thyself” close to mind- just because something is supposed to be “relaxing” doesn’t mean it will be for you. (I’m told Pachebel’s “Canon in D” is meant to be soothing, and yet, it makes me want to bang my head against a wall…).
As you discover music that works best for you, you can create a playlist and share it with other folks who work with your child.
If you'd like to give your child new coping skills to address anxiety
join us for our
Registration CLOSES September 30 and we only have a couple spots left!
See you soon!
Catherine Backus, MT-BC
 Wendy E. J. Knight, Nikki S. Rickard; Relaxing Music Prevents Stress-Induced Increases in Subjective Anxiety, Systolic Blood Pressure, and Heart Rate in Healthy Males and Females, Journal of Music Therapy, Volume 38, Issue 4, 1 December 2001, Pages 254–272, https://doi.org/10.1093/jmt/38.4.254
 Jason L. Burns, Elise Labbé, Brooke Arke, Kirsten Capeless, Bret Cooksey, Angel Steadman, Chris Gonzales; The Effects of Different Types of Music on Perceived and Physiological Measures of Stress, Journal of Music Therapy, Volume 39, Issue 2, 1 July 2002, Pages 101–116, https://doi.org/10.1093/jmt/39.2.101