For over a decade, I've used healing music as a coping strategy to relieve stress and anxiety in my daily life.
Music is a Natural Tool for Relaxation
Healing music can be surprisingly effective for stress relief and anxiety relief. It's often used in meditation to help focus the mind and still busy thoughts—a practice that has roots in traditions going back centuries. Ancient societies considered music an essential tool for calming the spirit, but too many people today fail to realize the effect it has on our minds and bodies.
I first found relaxation CDs at the Discovery Store over a decade ago. I bought them hoping for anxiety relief, and I'm continually grateful for the way these songs calm me when I'm anxious. Healing music is invaluable for naturally reducing stress and promoting relaxation; I consider it a life-saver, and I'm certain it can help you as well.
Read on for more information, including listening tips and album recommendations.
Healing Music Relieves Anxiety Naturally by Easing the Stress Response
Healing music can slow spiraling, out-of-control thoughts and bring you to a calm, peaceful state. It's been proven to evoke physical responses from the body, altering brainwave patterns and lowering blood pressure. It typically has fewer beats per second than regular music, prompting your body to slow down and match the sedate pace. Some musicians also incorporate specific wavelengths of sound associated with relaxation into their songs.
Healing music is normally instrumental, although some songs will include chanting of simple syllables. Most people don't think about the impact of sung words, but they can definitely influence your emotional state and produce anxiety. So many songs have negative messages, and the repetition of words and phrases can be like a mantra, reinforcing that message in your subconscious mind -- particularly if you're singing along. To give you an example, consider the words of "No Time" by The Guess Who. One section near the end keeps repeating the phrase "I got no time". By singing along, you're telling your brain that you don't have time -- something most of us feel like we don't have enough of as it is. If you have the misfortune of getting that refrain stuck in your head, it can make you feel stressed in a hurry. The absence of words in healing music means that you don't have worry about internalizing potentially harmful thoughts and ideas or reinforcing negative thoughts already present in your mind.
Many relaxation songs also lack the distinct patterns of melody that we tend to expect in music, although this isn't true of every song or composer. I find free-form songs to be more calming, but some people find them boring or too "new age". Luckily, there are plenty of different songs styles available to fit your preference.
I find listening through headphones is most effective for stress relief. While the music is helpful no matter how you listen, I think the subtler elements of the songs can't be heard well with speakers.
Calming Songs from Sound Experts
Not all healing music is equally effective. Many CDs are marketed as tools for relaxation without any real basis for that claim. The composers listed here have extensively studied music and researched its effects on the brain and body. Their compositions are created using knowledge gleaned from years of research and testing.
Even so, music is a personal preference and some artists will appeal to you more than others. It's important to find songs that are both relaxing and enjoyable, because otherwise you won't listen to them on a regular basis. The following CDs came from boxed collections of healing music, and there were some artists in each set that didn't appeal to me. Those discs are no longer in my collection. I've owned the following discs for more than 10 years and I still find them effective for anxiety relief.
- Sound Medicine: Music for Brainwave Massage by Dr. Jeffrey Thompson features two 30-minute tracks which move you towards a meditative state, although you don't have to listen to both tracks to experience the calming effects. I find these songs very helpful and sometimes listen to this album at night to help me sleep. It's good for stilling a restless mind. (Dr. Thompson's music has been the most helpful to me overall; I own more of his albums than any other artist.)
- Wind & Mountain by Deuter is so good that I bought a second copy after a friend lost my original disc! I love the use of natural sounds like ocean waves and birdsong in the compositions. I listen to this album several times a week.
This CD is also good for sparking creativity; I would listen to it during art class and it definitely seemed to help. It has 6 tracks totaling nearly an hour.
- Drone Zone by Kay Gardner is also a collection of short songs for relaxation. These compositions are based on a "root" tone (often referred to as the "drone") that produces specific vibrations within the body. A variety of instruments are used in these songs, including pipe organ, Indian tamboura, bamboo flute, and Scottish bagpipes. (Unfortunately, new copies of this album are no longer available.)
Some albums specify that you shouldn't listen to them while driving! Be cautious about using this music in your car, particularly if the composition specifies that it uses theta waves for relaxation.
Choosing Your Music
Selecting the right music can seem daunting, considering how many great selections are available. I recommend reading about the intent of the album, since some songs are designed for a specific purpose: enhancing relaxation or meditation, stimulating creativity, encouraging sleep, or aiding emotional healing. Steven Halpern's website gives more information about his albums, and the downloadable liner notes provide detailed discussions of the benefits you can expect. Dr. Jeffrey Thompson's website also offers guidance in selecting the best album for your needs.
Once you've narrowed down the field, listen to samples and trust your instincts. Your mind and body generally know what they need and respond accordingly. At one point, I found myself listening to Drone Zone by Kay Gardner at least twice a day, even though it had been months since I'd used that album. I can only conclude that the tones and instruments were satisfying some need my mind was experiencing.
...most music was not composed for relaxation or healing. I have discovered keys to composing music for sound healing that activate our innate healing response, and I orchestrate my recordings to optimize this response.
— Steven Halpern
Steven Halpern, Pioneer in Sound Healing
After I first published this article, readers were kind enough to suggest Steven Halpern as an artist I should try. I recognized his name and knew I'd heard his work, but I thought his work had dropped out of my collection for a reason. Then I had a high anxiety moment and decided to check his selections in Amazon's MP3 store. I previewed several titles and was delighted to rediscover Music for Healing. When the first track started, I immediately recognized the song, even though it must have been ten years since I owned the disc. (I suspect I loaned it to the person who lost my copy of Wind & Mountain.) I promptly bought it, downloaded it, and started playing it. I listened to it three times that day and I'm very happy to have it back in my library. I also invested in two more Halpern albums, Chakra Suite and the amazing Deep Alpha, plus I bought a sampling of tracks from other titles, including four excellent songs from Tonal Alchemy.
Theta Meditation: Great for Stress Relief
During one particularly stressful time, I found myself wanting a new disc. I considered albums by Steven Halpern and Dr. Jeffrey Thompson, and I ended up choosing Thompson's Theta Meditation System largely because it's designed to improve the ability to handle stress. This disc contains two compositions, roughly 30 minutes each. The songs contain the same layering of sound (including natural sounds like wind or water) that I associate with Dr. Thompson's work, and I particularly enjoy that trait in his music; I find it's very effective at engaging my brain and keeping me focused on the sound (as opposed to whatever problem I have in mind). I was puzzled by one section of the first track: the layering disappears and a simple electronic tune dominates for about two minutes. This section seems out of place, but I can only assume it's there for a reason. If I'm only going to listen to one track, I pick the second one. I have to say, though, both tracks work! The CD is very relaxing and I definitely feel a physical response when I listen.
The second track is featured in the following video.
There's also a "sequel" to this album called Theta Meditation System 2.0. I decided to try it out and got a copy last year. The overall tone is quite different from this one -- it reminds me more of his albums Creative Mind and Healing Mind 2.0, which have more traditional melodies to the songs -- but I love it and use it regularly.
Add Relaxation Music to Your Daily Routine to Preempt Anxiety
Listening to healing compositions on a regular basis relieves stress and makes your reaction to stressful situations less extreme. A counselor once told me that it takes very little to knock you off balance when you're on edge. But if you establish a steady baseline state, you can remain calm even in difficult conditions.
When you make a daily practice of closing your eyes for a few minutes and listening to healing music, you'll be more centered and less vulnerable to outside pressures.
Visualization, a Simple Relaxation Technique You Can Pair With Music
In today's world, we often feel like we need to be doing something every moment, which makes it difficult for people to simply relax and listen to music. Visualization (picturing an image or experience in your mind) helps solve that problem by giving your brain something to do while you listen. It's also proven to be very effective for stress relief, and I often use this technique when I'm relaxing with my favorite albums.
One exercise recommended to me by a counselor was to imagine yourself in a boat, gently bobbing in quiet waters. Other peaceful images she suggested include floating on clouds, walking along a forest trail, and resting under a tree.
Try picturing yourself relaxing in a safe natural setting the next time you feel anxious or overwhelmed; even a few minutes of visualization can relieve stress and calm you down.
Share your Favorite Healing Music
I hope my recommendations help you relieve your own stress and anxiety. If you have additional suggestions for healing music that will help others, please share them in the comments.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2014 C. A. Chancellor