If you’ve ever walked down Pollock road between class periods and looked at the faces around you, you’ve probably noticed that about half of them are framed by headphones. From what I can tell, listening to music is one of the most popular stress relief techniques among college kids. It’s pretty obvious that listening to your favorite artist does make you feel good, but what’s less apparent is why it feels so good.
Music has a unique connection with our emotion that exists in few other activities. This connection is backed by bounds of research. Evidence indicates that music around 60 beats per minute can cause the brain to synchronize with the beat, which in turn produces alpha brainwaves, the same waves which are present when we are relaxed and conscious. Researchers at Stanford University even claim that, “listening to music seems to be able to change brain functioning to the same extent as medication.”
The best type of music for stress reduction, however, might not be your favorite genre. The most effective stress-relieving music is slow, quiet classical music (sorry punk rock fans). Many people also find music mixed with nature sounds to be particularly soothing. More so than others, this type of music can have benefits our physiological functions, such as slowing the pulse and heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Of course, all of these biological changes contribute to a reduction in stress. It’s important to note that these effects cannot be forced: if you don’t like this type of music, listening to it might irritate you, which adds to stress instead of reducing it. The key is that you must first enjoy the music being played before it can relax you.
In one particularly interesting study, college students gave an oral presentation with either Pachaelbel’s Canon or no music in the background. Scientists found that this soothing tune helped reduce anxiety, heart rate, and blood pressure in participants who presented with the tunes. The students in the music condition reported feeling overall more comfortable and focused during their presentation than did the control group.
I know that for me, when I’m very busy and stressed, I have a tendency to avoid listening to music because I consider it another distraction from my work, a waste of my rather limited time. It’s important to realize, however, that by relieving stress, music increases productivity. Hence, as long as you select the right type of music for you, there’s actually opportunity for gain here.
There are many ways to incorporate music into a busy schedule. If you spend a lot of time in the car, CDs are a good way to make sure you’re exposing yourself to the most relaxing type of music. Another way to get more music in your day is a shower radio. If nothing else, with the college freshman communal bathroom system, you can at least mooch off your neighbors! Finally- join the crowd here at Penn State! Pop in your headphones between classes. This might be an especially stressful part of your day, as the figurative workload piles higher and higher in your head.
If you’re having trouble finding songs that relax you, try listening to a few of these songs to find your fit (disclaimer: these aren’t songs you’ll see on iTunes top 50 this week) :