Music interventions reduce stress

Stress negatively impacts our health. We know that better and better. But how can we reduce stress when our daily environments keep stress levels up? Scientists looked into the effects of music interventions and found that they had a significant effect on stress reduction.

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The study

In the study, scientists brought together the results of over a 100 experiments including almost 10,000 participants. They found that music interventions had a significant effect on stress reduction. The study is a collaboration between the University of Amsterdam, KenVaK Research Centre for the Arts Therapies, HAN University of Applied Science, the Open University and Zuyd University of Applied Science. The results are now published in "Health Psychology Review".

Tranquilizing medication comes with negative side-effects

High stress levels are strongly associated with physical and emotional problems. Think of cardiovascular diseases, chronic pain, anxiety disorders, depression, burnout, and addictions. To cope with daily stressors, millions of people around the world use tranquilizing medication, with numerous negative side-effects, including substance dependence and abuse.

Therefore, it is important to show also the effects and applicability of non-pharmacological short-term interventions for stress reduction. Music listening and music making could offer such interventions.

Testing the effects of music interventions

For decades, music has been used to help reduce stress, such as music activities (for example singing or music making), music listening for a certain patient group, and live music therapy offered by music therapists. To integrate all that we know about the effects of music interventions on stress, researchers of different universities made a systematic review and meta-analysis of experimental studies testing the effects of music interventions in clinical, medical and work- or study-related settings.

How does music reduce stress?

The meta-analytic review included 104 Random Controlled Trials with a total of 9.617 participants of whom 4.838 participated in a music intervention group or music therapy group, and 4.779 constituted the comparison group.

The results of the review show that music can reduce stress and related negative health impacts because:

  • Music seems to be able to decrease physiological arousal, such as blood pressure and rate of respiration, which is increased during stress.
  • Music influences activity in brain structures that are known to be crucially involved in emotional processes and induce psychological stress-related symptoms, like feeling overwhelmed, feelings of sadness and loss of emotional control.

Music interventions are effective

The authors conclude that music interventions are effective in reducing physiological and psychological stress-related symptoms in different kinds of settings: mental healthcare, polyclinic medical settings, during medical surgery and in daily life situations.

The practical use of music interventions

This study has important implications for the practical use of music interventions in stress reduction. Most importantly, it indicates that music interventions can be effective. Considering the fact that music interventions are very easy and inexpensive to integrate in daily lives and medical settings, and lack side effects, the moderate tranquilizing effects of music are significant for the prevention and treatment of stress-related problems.

Article details

'Effects of Music Interventions on Stress-Related Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Two Meta-Analyses' , in: Health Psychology Review (Open Access), Martina de Witte, Anouk Spruit, Susan van Hooren, Xavier Moonen & Geert-Jan Stams.

Source: UvA