Using Music for Stress Reduction and Self-Care

on April 9, 2020 2 comments
Using Music for Stress Reduction and Self-Care

Hello everyone! Did you know there’s scientific evidence that music is effective for self-care? In this blog post, clinical neuropsychologist and CREST.BD Network Member Dr. Ivan Torres shares some of the recent science behind this, and makes evidence-based recommendations on specific songs and song types you can listen to to reduce stress and care for yourself.

Information and Strategies for Music Self-Care

Below are some key findings from an excellent recent review1 on the effects of music on both physiological arousal and psychological stress in a broad range of contexts.

Key findings:

  • Music overall has a positive effect on stress reduction in both physiological arousal and especially psychological response. In terms of time frame, music has an immediate beneficial effect on these outcomes.
  • Music experienced as pleasant increases the intensity of emotional valence (feelings of happiness), which likely has a stress-reducing effect.
  • In addition, listening to music can provide ‘distraction’ from stress-increasing thoughts or aversive emotional states.
  • Music with a slow, steady rhythm may provide stress reduction by altering inherent body rhythms such as heart rate. In addition, larger effects are found listening to music with a tempo of 60–80 beats per minute (BPM), which characterizes music that progresses in a slow and soothing pace.
  • Positive outcomes are observed when individuals select their own music, and when researchers pre-select music for research participants. However, because music appreciation and enjoyment is highly subjective, maximal benefits are often observed when individuals select their own relaxing music. Positive effects are typically observed when individuals listen to slow and steady songs, or relaxing classical music.

A woman in her late twenties with short hair and glasses, leaning back and listening to music on a white couch. Her eyes are closed and she looks relaxed - it's music self-care!

Self-care strategies and resources:

1) For the purpose of relaxation and stress reduction, listen to slow paced classical music or other slow, steady music (roughly within the 60-80 BPM tempo range) which you find to be relaxing and enjoyable. The BPM for most songs can be determined by a quick google search (e.g. what is the BPM for “name of song”).

2) In a very recent study2, scientists surveyed and obtained emotional response ratings from 2,500 people in the United States and China on a large number of songs from various musical genres including rock, folk, jazz, classical, marching band, experimental and heavy metal. Based on the findings from this study, the authors created an online interactive “audio map” that allows users to sample songs from the various emotional domains (including calming and relaxing music). Users can double click on each sample to link to the original source (youtube videos).

3) Below are some individual musical pieces that have been used in prior published research studies investigating the effects of music on stress/relaxation. The advantage of listening to these pieces is that they have some validated scientific support for being physiologically or psychologically relaxing or stress-reducing.

“Florida Suite – Sunset Near the Plantation,” by Delius

“The Dove,” by Respighi

“Canon In D Major,” by Pachelbel

4) Below are some other musical pieces that have also been reported to have some relaxing or stress reducing qualities, although their scientific evidence base to date is not as strong.

“We Can Fly,” by Rue du Soleil (Café Del Mar)

“Canzonetta Sull’aria,” by Mozart

“Someone Like You,” by Adele

“Pure Shores,” by All Saints

“Please Don’t Go,” by Barcelona

“Strawberry Swing,” by Coldplay

“Watermark,” by Enya

“Mellomaniac (Chill Out Mix),” by DJ Shah

“Electra,” by Airstream

“Weightless,” by Marconi Union

5) In addition to the links included above, there are an infinite number of online or commercially available videos, apps, CDs, MP3s, links, etc. of relaxing and/or stress reducing music, songs or collections. Another reasonable strategy is to self-search and sample these options and to select the ones that are most subjectively relaxing to you. The key is then to actually listen to your selected music for the purpose of stress reduction, as there is now clear scientific evidence that it works!


1. Martina de Witte, Anouk Spruit, Susan van Hooren, Xavier Moonen & GeertJan Stams (2019): Effects of music interventions on stress-related outcomes: a systematic review and two meta-analyses, Health Psychology Review: (Link)[Jump back to article]

2. Alan S. Cowen, Xia Fang, Disa Sauter, Dacher Keltner (2020): What music makes us feel: At least 13 dimensions organize subjective experiences associated with music across different cultures. Proceedi
ngs of the National Academy of Sciences, 117 (4) 1924-1934. (Link)
[Jump back to article]

2 Comments on “Using Music for Stress Reduction and Self-Care”

  1. Informative blog post! I was amazed to see how music can reduce stress, and we can listen to our favorite music when we feel overwhelmed. This is good. Thanks for sharing this content.

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