Music is essential to living, and it is ultimately unavoidable yet, as I’m sure you’ve experienced, music can be a hugely effective mood changer. We all have that one song or tune that puts a smile on your face when you hear it, that makes you feel instantly that little bit happier. Then there are the songs that remind you of a troublesome time and make you feel sad, or possibly even angry. Let’s not forget Christmas songs and how they drive some people mad whereas others spend the run-up to Christmas in a state of joy and excitement that builds with every playing of “All I want for Christmas”. The reality is that music can and does trigger all these emotions because it causes different parts of your brain to release and diffuse different chemicals (hormones).
One hormone commonly affected by music that can be affected is cortisol – the main stress hormone. One of its roles is to cooperate with your brain to help you control your mood, fear and motivation. Too much of this hormone, however, as you are no doubt aware, can cause problems and illness.
It’s no secret that the right music can improve your mood but science has now proven that listening to upbeat music can not only improve your mood, but that listening to and/or playing music actually reduces chronic stress by lowering the amount of cortisol in your body. According to this research, the average person needs to listen to 32 hours of music per week for it to affect your cortisol levels (that’s roughly 4 hours a day. This is partly down to the fact music encourages us to release Dopamine, one of our body’s ‘happy hormones’.
The brain works most efficiently when both sides of the brain are engaged; In a nutshell, the left side of the brain is logical and the right is creative. The left side of the brain is primarily engaged in work because that’s where problem-solving and logic are more often required. Listening to music whilst working helps to engage the right side of the brain simultaneously therefore encouraging optimum brain usage, potentially resulting in better work.
Research suggests that if people listen to music that they enjoy whilst they’re working, the standard of work produced is at a much higher level. An idea in the office might be to ask each employee to put forward one of their favourite songs and compile a playlist of them all to use as background music when work needs to be done; this could encourage your teams to work at a higher level! However, whilst this can help some, others might find music distracting. A solution to this might be allowing people to use headphones when they need to focus or concentrate.
With all this in mind, is it possible to help reduce the amount of stress in work environments by listening to music?
To some people, 4 hours of music per day may seem like a lot (especially to those of you who aren’t all that keen on music) but you probably already listen to this amount without realising! Every morning on the commute to work, most people listen to the radio in the car, if they walk or take public transport they might wear headphones. Even in movies and TV shows, music is more often than not playing in the background. But, you need to make sure that your music of choice is beneficial to you. Listening to too much sad music can have a negative effect on your mood, as can listening to music designed to create tension (eg. the jaws theme), music like that could even increase the levels of cortisol in your body! And of course, we don’t want that!
Top tips to using Music as part of your Stress Management
Theme Song: Everybody has one song that makes them happy instantly. Find your song and play it whenever you’re about to face or are in a stressful situation, or even if you just need to put a smile on your face!
Feel Good Music: Don’t underestimate the power of music, use it to your advantage! If you’re faced with a tough crowd, don’t hesitate to play some feel-good music to get them ready and enthused for the day’s activities.
Train your brain: Perhaps you’re looking for a new hobby to take up? Learning an instrument can help expand/strengthen your brain! Studies prove that musicians have superior working memory, auditory skills, and cognitive flexibility!
Just Listen: Find time to listen to music! Whenever you’re sat at home, aimlessly scrolling through facebook or instagram, making a cup of tea or even taking the dog for a walk, take that time to discover new music, listen to your favourite playlist or even re-discover that old Fleetwood Mac tape (CD) that’s hidden away!
Create playlists: Find the songs that make you happy and compile them together, do the same with other moods and maybe even create playlists specifically for feeling focused, feeling calm or feeling motivated.