Where you put your attention matters more than you realize. For example, when you are thinking or talking about work-life stressors, your ability to take in other sensory input is challenged. One way to break out of the mental stress loop is to listen to music. Music can divert the brain’s attention, giving you a break from repetitive thoughts and judgments. The variety of music genres to choose from when looking for ways to shift your attention and enhance mood is ever increasing.  

What Research Tells Us

Music can create a variety of emotional and nonemotional meanings, depending the type and listening environment—hence the warning to not listen to meditative music while driving. 

A meta-analysis of 400 studies revealed that music has the power to enhance immune function and reduce stress. Anxiety was also reduced when using music in the surgical setting.

Researchers conducted a study to determine the effect of certain types of music on the stress response. Participants listened to specific musical selections (see sidebar) while trying to solve complex puzzles as quickly as possible—a highly stress-inducing situation. Brain activity, blood pressure, heart rate, and breath rate were monitored during the exercise. Among the music used in the research, one particular song stood out. Weightless by Marconi Union was shown to reduce participants’ overall anxiety by 65%. 

“Brain imaging studies have shown that music works at a very deep level within the brain, stimulating not only those regions responsible for processing sound but also ones associated with emotions,” the researchers concluded.    

How to Practice

In a comfortable, safe environment, explore the music listed in the sidebar or create a playlist of music you find relaxing. Not all people experience the same reaction to music, so notice how the music affects you. Listen to the music you find most relaxing prior to going to sleep and music you find more stimulating after waking.