Music holds a powerful influence over our minds and bodies. When specific songs come on you can be transported to a specific moment in time, to a specific memory. Athletes use songs to energize them, and put them in the right mindset to complete a game or smash a workout. But, that isn’t the only way that music can be used to influence your mind and body, you can actually use different sound frequencies to “hack” your brainwaves (sound therapy) and promote physical healing. By using specific rhythms and frequencies, you can downshift your brain from the beta state (normal consciousness) to the theta state (relaxed consciousness) and even the delta state (where internal healing can occur) (5).
When things get difficult at work, school, or in your personal life, you can use as many tips, tricks, and techniques as you can get to calm your nerves. In this age of constant bombardment, the science is clear: if you want your mind and body to last, you’ve got to prioritize giving them a rest. Music is an easy way to take some of the pressure off of all the pings, dings, apps, tags, texts, emails, appointments, meetings, and deadlines that can easily spike your stress level and leave you feeling drained and anxious.
Stress either exacerbates or increases the risk of health issues like heart disease, obesity, depression, gastrointestinal problems, asthma, and more. More troubling still, a recent paper out of Harvard and Stanford found health issues from job stress alone cause more deaths than diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or influenza.
Enter: Sound Therapy
Sound therapies have long been popular as a way of relaxing and restoring one’s health. For centuries, indigenous cultures have used music to enhance well-being and improve health conditions.
Neuroscientists in the UK conducted a study on participants who attempted to solve difficult puzzles as quickly as possible while connected to sensors. The puzzles induced a certain level of stress, and participants listened to different songs while researchers measured brain activity as well as physiological states that included heart rate, blood pressure, and rate of breathing. According to Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson of Mindlab International, which conducted the research, the top song produced a greater state of relaxation than any other music tested to date (1).
In fact, listening to a specific song in particular resulted in a striking 65% reduction in participants’ overall anxiety, and a 35% reduction in their usual physiological resting rates (1).
Types of Sound Therapy
There are a few different types of sound therapy, each with different benefits, though not all have been supported through research. Which type of sound therapy works best for you is most likely something to be discovered through a process of trial and error. There is no “wrong” type of sound therapy, it is just about finding an outlet to relieve your stress and relax your state of mind.
1. Neurologic music therapy
Some studies have shown neurologic music therapy can be more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety levels before surgery (3). Administered by a credentialed provider who assesses the individual’s needs, neurologic music therapy involves some sort of mixture of creating, listening, singing, or moving to music. It’s used predominantly for physical habitation, pain management, and brain injuries.
2. Bonny Method
Named after Helen L. Bonny, PhD, the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) classical music and imagery explores personal growth, consciousness, and transformation. A 2017 study showed promising evidence that a series of GIM sessions could be used to improve psychological and physiological health in adults with medical and mental health needs (3).
This sound healing method is delivered by skilled musicians who complete the Nordoff-Robbins 2-year Master’s program. They use music familiar to those being treated, create new music together, or work toward a performance. The Nordoff-Robbins approach is used to treat children with developmental delays, mental health issues, learning difficulties, autism spectrum disorder, dementia, and other conditions.
4. Tuning fork therapy
Tuning fork therapy uses calibrated metal tuning forks to apply specific vibrations to different parts of the body. This can help release tension and energy, and promote emotional balance. It supposedly works similarly to acupuncture, using sound frequencies for point stimulation instead of needles.
5. Brainwave entrainment
This method stimulates the brain into a specific state using pulsing sound to encourage your brain waves to align to the frequency of the beat. It’s supposed to help induce enhanced focus, entranced state, relaxation, and sleep. Though more research is needed, there’s some evidence that audible brainwave entrainment reduces anxiety, pain, and improves behavioral problems in children.
National Institutes of Health Study
Other studies of music and sound therapy have been conducted by the scientists from the National Institutes of Health. The scientists found that subjects who listened to classical music before a stressful event recovered from the stress faster than those who listened to rippling water or simply relaxed in quiet.
But producing sound, particularly the deep, resonant kind sound therapy works with, may be even more beneficial than passively listening to it. A 2012 study split 39 people caring for family members with dementia into two groups. One was tasked with listening to relaxing music for 12 minutes each day for eight weeks.
At the end of the study the group that listened to relaxing music felt good, with 31.2% reporting substantial improvement in depressive symptoms and 19% scoring higher on a mental health survey (5).
Sound therapy, many experts say, is at the cutting edge of healing. And soon, they insist, it will enter the mainstream. Though, the truth is, you’re probably already using sound therapy in your life.
Evidence may be limited on some methods but for the most part, music therapy has been found to be effective for stress reduction and relaxation. Remember to be kind to your body and forgive yourself for those moments where you become stressed and overwhelmed.
There is little risk to listening to music; find out which method works for you and then go forth and prosper.