• Catherine Backus, MT-BC

4 Ways to Use Music To Reduce Stress and Anxiety!

To say that this week has been anxiety-inducing would be an understatement. Aside from the very real danger of COVID-19, many folks are also experiencing newfound economic insecurity, a reduction of social networks and supports, and the uncertainty of how long all of this upheaval will last.


Before I offer a few self-care suggestions, I want to encourage you all to follow the CDC and WHO guidelines for social distancing- while some of the dialogue around these measures may seem like panic, it’s actually a full-hearted, community response to protect our most vulnerable members. If, in the end, this all feels like an overreaction, then we’ve done a good job responding to the pandemic (ask anyone in tech who worked around the clock before Y2K).


So, wash your hands, limit any unnecessary social contact, and keep at least 6 feet between yourself and other people.



Now, for the music:


You may have seen this viral video of quarantined Italians singing together.

It’s a beautiful example of the power of music to bring us together in troubled times, to ease our worry, and make us feel connected to one another.

Many folks are looking at the prospect of at least a couple weeks at home, which can quickly lead to stress and anxiety (and that’s without watching the news). There are several ways you can use music to make your stress levels a bit more manageable.



1.Listen to Your Favorite Music

So, we all have the stereotype of “relaxing music,” but if you hate Enya Don’t force yourself to listen to her. When we hear familiar, preferred music, our brains signal to us that we feel safe. So, it might be a good time to visit that album you wore out in your teens, or the songs your family sang together on road trips. Releasing those happy neurochemicals helps your body feel physiologically calm, as well, which will reduce the feeling of stress.


(And if your favorite music is from an independent artist? Consider buying their albums/merch, as working musicians are losing the next couple months of gigs, which are one of the only ways to make a living in the age of free streaming…)





2.Dance it out

Any fan of early Grey’s Anatomy knows the power of dancing it out. Being a surgeon is certainly a high-stress job, and Shonda Rhimes was right about the efficacy of dance as stress-reduction- research supports it! I personally believe that it’s impossible to feel upset while listening to the B-52’s, so that’s my recommendation, but any music that lets you shake off the stress is a good choice.





3.Practice an Instrument

I’m not a natural optimist, but I’m trying to take advantage of my now empty social calendar to get back into practicing trumpet, and perhaps sharpen my mandolin skills while I’m at it. Practicing an instrument can help reduce stress and depression! Another thing that can help keep a sense of normalcy while being stuck at home is keeping a consistent schedule. Think about setting aside a bit of time every day to practice your instrument (or learn a new one) and you’ll probably notice some brain changes. And good news- AMTS is offering tele-sessions and video lessons going forward, so if you’ve got a guitar or piano (or ukulele or trumpet or bass or…) sitting around that you don’t know how to play, we can help you out.





4.Sing!

Listening to music is great, but singing is even better! For starters, singing requires a more controlled, slow style of breathing that can reduce the physiological symptoms of stress and anxiety. Even in untrained musicians, singing reduces stress. Maybe you have a certain song you already find self-soothing, or a repetitive chorus that you find meditative. Maybe you love to harmonize and are in a place with other singers! Maybe you just like making up silly songs and singing them to your cat (guilty as charged). Either way, “don’t worry if it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear, just sing a song!”


I’m not gonna lie, the nihilist in me has R.E.M. playing in my head sometimes, but in dark times, it’s important to remember that even if we’re limiting our contact with each other, we still have a responsibility to take care of each other. Scarcity mindset and panic can sometimes lead to cruelty or impatience, which is the last thing we need on top of everything else.



So, I’ll share a song that I’ve kept in my head as a reminder:



Be kind to each other and yourselves out there, y’all <3



Catherine Backus, MT-BC



















If you're interested in trying music therapy for yourself, schedule a free call. We'll chat and see if we're a good fit.


PS: At the moment (March 16, 2020) we are also offering tele-therapy.






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