Stressed Out? Time to Cue the Music

Can listening to music improve your mood? Most of us would agree music can generate happy feelings, but is there actual science behind it?

music-sunA 2013 study showed that music can not only elevate mood, but bolster emotions that help people relax, deal with stress, find comfort and even meaning in their lives. Other benefits for the study group, which stayed consistent across gender, age and socioeconomic backgrounds, were greater feelings of social connectedness and self-awareness.

Turns out the feel-good effects of music also impact our physical health. A review of 23 studies involving almost 1,500 patients found that listening to music decreased blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety levels in patients with heart disease. But you don’t have to have heart disease to reap the rewards of listening: music’s ability to lower levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and increase dopamine (a brain chemical associated with pleasure) offers us all a cheap, accessible way to increase well-being.

“I have had many patients tell me how profoundly music has helped them improve their mood, and many use it to alleviate stress,” says Astrid Pujari, MD, medical director, Center for Integrative Medicine. “In fact the song ‘Weightless’ by Marconi Union was shown in a study to lower anxiety, so I frequently recommend my patients listen to it.”

Listening to calming music has also been shown to maintain a positive mood while driving and decrease stress, says Dr. Pujari, which may be especially important for people who regularly navigate Seattle traffic.

Music’s stress busting power may be a clue to yet another one of its benefits: managing pain. Stress and anxiety exacerbate pain, so reducing those feelings is a good start toward pain relief. And because pain is both a sensory and emotional process, music that triggers positive emotions or memories can improve a person’s ability to handle pain. In one study of chronic pain patients, music intervention significantly reduced pain compared to the control group, while also lowering anxiety, depression and the need for medication.

Whether the goal is lifting your mood, calming anxiety, easing pain or simply boosting feelings of contentment and well-being, science says look to music as one of your best allies.


Boost your mood and get moving at a free summer concert! Virginia Mason is proud to support three community concert series: Downtown Summer Sounds, hosted by the Downtown Seattle Association; the Bellevue Downtown Association’s Live at Lunch Concert Series and University Village Sounds of Summer. Click the links for concert schedules and locations. 

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