June 10, 2020
Music Listening for Stressful Times
By Kathryn J Larson, LPCC, BC-DMT, MT-BC
Listening to music has a dynamic influence on us. In this time of change and uncertainty, when it is hard to find our footing, it can be empowering to know that we can consciously use music to impact our emotions and our sense of well-being. We can have some control and even some enjoyment!
The trick is that everyone is different and likes different kinds of music. This means each person gets to be a detective and sleuth out what music will work best for them. In the process, be mindful of what kinds of music may trigger negative emotions and behaviors so you can avoid going that direction. Check out your personal music collection, your online playlist, YouTube, or wherever your music sources are. Here are a few suggestions for categories—then you can start filling them in with song titles. You might even want to create playlists for different purposes. Then it will be easy to access the music you need when you need it.
I have heard people name every style of music in this category, from new age to classical to hard rock to rap. You might check out gentle flute music, or quiet piano or guitar. Some like music with more flow and without a steady beat (think new age music), but others like a regular steady beat because it can provide comfort and predictability. Maybe you prefer instrumental music or songs with words. What gives you a feeling of being soothed or comforted, or a sense of solace?
Experience positive emotions
Check out music that reminds you of happy times that feel good to remember. Maybe you can find your style of humor in some of the COVID-19 song parodies that are on YouTube. Have some belly laughs! Sometimes an energetic beat, dance music or positive lyrics can shift your emotions. Upbeat music may also get you out of your chair so you can do a little dancing, exercise, or get to a task you haven’t had the energy to attempt. Moving is another way to support positive emotions—as well as a sense of accomplishment when you complete a task.
Occasionally you may be so overwhelmed that you need a healthy distraction. You might want to listen to music by a favorite artist or some new music you’ve been curious about. Maybe you need to listen to music that is opposite to the way you are feeling, something that will take you on a mini-vacation. Give yourself a break so you can bring some inspiration back to your everyday life.
Experience difficult emotions in a helpful way
In this turbulent period, you may feel cut-off from parts of yourself, find yourself irritable, or feel weighed down by grief. Sometimes the right music will assist you to feel those emotions in a way that helps you lighten your load and think about your circumstances in a different way. Have you ever noticed that especially beautiful music or touching lyrics can help you release something like sadness? Maybe dynamic orchestral music will take you through some waves of emotion that ultimately provide some relief. See how this works for you. If you are overwhelmed, however, don’t hesitate to call your local helpline or a therapist. These are especially trying times, and it’s important to seek out support if needed.
Feel more connection to others
Social distancing and staying home are necessary right now, but many people feel overly isolated. Song lyrics that speak to your situation or emotions can be incredibly affirming. You might feel less alone just knowing the songwriter shares your experience. A great way to get to know your friends better is to ask them what their favorite music is now. You might just have a blast listening to new artists and music. You might also discover some music that is emotionally helpful for you. Musicians are currently finding many creative ways to reach out via the internet. Explore YouTube or social media. You are sure to be inspired and feel more connected with people.
So have fun creating your playlists and share them with others. As Plato said, “Music is the medicine of the soul.”
Kathryn J Larson is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, Board-Certified Music Therapist, and a Board-Certified Dance/Movement Therapist. She currently works with Veterans.