Thriving Together Series: Music for Stress Relief

Thriving Together music stress relief

Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services/George Mason University

By: Mariam Zakaraia, a Mason student majoring in Communication

“Music is what tells us the human race is greater than we realize.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

Music is a universal language, yet it also resonates with each person individually. We listen to music and practice music to reflect our emotions, no matter how we’re feeling – and music is an especially powerful tool we can use for stress relief.

Listening to and playing music can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol,  McGill University research shows. The energy from sound vibrations can lead to healing – including relieving stress – and strengthen well-being as a result, faculty and students from Mason’s School of Music explain in this article.

The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) points out that music therapy has been shown to help people manage stress, promote wellness, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication, promote physical rehabilitation, and more. Music therapy even benefits people with various mental health issues, including depression, trauma, and schizophrenia, AMTA research shows.

A research review published by the Journal of Music Therapy shows that students often suffer from anxiety and stress caused by heavy workloads at both school and work. Academic stress (especially about test results), as well as stress related to student-teacher interactions and peer connections, has a significant impact on students’ capacity to study and influences their school performance and involvement. However, many students rely on music as a source of stress relief. Music helps to process emotions and it can also be used as a relaxing or calming tactic for anxiety. For this reason, we can relieve some stress and anxiety even by giving ourselves five minutes to enjoy our favorite music can help relieve stress and anxiety.

I know this from personal experience. When I need to write a paper for my class, I always have anxiety, so I give myself a few minutes to change my mood and practice my creativity. I turn on classical music by composers such as Chopin, Beethoven, or Mozart. Their music cleans my mind and gives me the motivation to create something valuable. When I listen to music, time goes by quickly, and creative ideas just keep coming.

At other times when the world feels heavy on my shoulders, I always go to the piano. The world disappears around me with just one chord. Playing the piano calms me; the music pulls my feelings together and helps to strengthen me. Many students have found music helpful in similar ways. 

Ways to Relieve Stress through Music

We are constantly listening to music in our daily lives – while walking, driving, working, exercising, and many other activities. Some of us play instruments or sing, as well. In moments when we feel stressed, we can intentionally turn to any musical practice we enjoy. That may involve turning on one of our favorite song playlists, singing in the shower, or enjoying a break to play our guitar, keyboard, or another instrument.

Scheduling times to enjoy music on a regular basis can help us let go of the stress that has accumulated in our lives lately. From playing video games with innovative musical soundtracks to attending live concerts, we can choose from all sorts of musical activities. Mason offers many opportunities for students to enjoy music – from School of Music concerts and Green Machine performances, to a diverse variety of music classes. Mason even offers a Music for Well-Being Minor, which is open to all undergraduate students, regardless of any prior musical training. In the Music for Well-Being Minor classes, students can learn about the connections between music and well-being, including topics like sound vibration and mindfulness. Graduate students can pursue Mason’s Music for Well-Being Graduate Certificate.

Music is an art that can help us stay positive, creative, and healthy. Music lowers the stress hormones, which can cause negativity, as well as feelings of failure and depression. However, listening to our favorite music or playing an instrument can significantly change our mood and increase positive feelings.

Additional Resources

Discover more about music and well-being in this Thriving Together article on the well-being benefits of music.

Enjoy these famous quotes on music and well-being.

Learn more about the benefits of music therapy in this “Scientific Perspectives on Music Therapy” research from the New York Academy of Sciences.

Learn more about music and well-being research in these Greater Good Science Center music articles.

Write one of these Thriving Together Series features! We’re looking for contributions on all topics related to well-being. Read other Thriving Together Series articles here and contact us at cwb@gmu.edu for guidelines. Thank you for helping our Mason community thrive together online!