How Listening to Music on the Radio Can Reduce Anxiety and Keep Us Calm

The coronavirus pandemic is not just causing physical ailments but mental ones as well.

A May poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that almost 50 percent of Americans said the coronavirus was having a negative effect on their mental health, according to a Washington Post report. Similarly, an emergency hotline reported a 1,000 percent increase in calls regarding emotional distress in April compared to that month the year before.

The unknown can be fear- and anxiety-inducing, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Being forced to social distance can “make people feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety.”

While most people are happy to oblige with lockdown orders to slow the spread of the virus, being separated from friends and family can have a seriously detrimental effect on their mental health.

Studies have shown that loneliness and feelings of isolation lead to people having higher levels of cortisol, which is also known as the stress hormone. This chronic stress, as it’s termed, can eventually lead to higher risks of all kinds of physical ailments such as cardiovascular disease.

The good news is that there is one very simple way to relieve this anxiety, and it can be done from the comfort of your home: Listening to music on the radio.

Music Lowers Cortisol Levels

If high cortisol levels lead to chronic stress, the most obvious thing to do would be to engage in an activity that lowers cortisol levels. Listening to music on the radio does just that.

One study on this topic found that cortisol levels were lower in patients who were played music while undergoing surgery versus patients who weren’t played music. The music apparently relaxed the patients who had some level of nervousness in what is a typical high-stress situation.

Music Can Cause ‘Alpha Brainwaves’

Alpha brainwaves are present when humans are conscious and relaxed. A surefire way to reduce stress, then, is to create alpha brainwaves. But how?

A report from the University of Nevada, Reno cited research that found that music that is around 60 beats per minute can cause the human brain to actually synchronize with the beat, which in turn causes alpha brainwaves. Even listening to music at this tempo for a short period of time can do wonders to relax and reduce stress and anxiety.

Music can even induce sleep if you listen to calming music — at a slower tempo — for 45 minutes or more.

This probably isn’t altogether surprising to most people. Chances are, you’ve probably felt calmer and more relaxed when listening to certain music; you just may not have recognized the full effect of it in the moment.

Music is a powerful drug, as Stanford University researchers have said: “Listening to music seems to be able to change brain functioning to the same extent as medication.”

Music We Love Makes Us Happy

A great way to relieve anxiety is to do something that makes you happy. It turns out, what makes a lot of people happy is familiar music — especially our favorite parts of our favorite songs.

Many of us have gotten “the chills” as we belt out our favorite lines from the songs we love, but why is that, and what does it mean? Research has found that “the chills,” in this regard, happen because the body releases extra dopamine in the “anticipatory phase.”

Scientists from Montreal published a paper in Nature Neuroscience that found we experience “the chills” because our mind is telling our body that our favorite part is coming up. It’s a truly amazing idea. The study reads: “Immediately before the climax of emotional responses, there was evidence for relatively greater dopamine activity in the caudate … The anticipatory phase, set off by temporal cues signaling that a potentially pleasurable auditory sequence is coming, can trigger expectations of euphoric emotional states and create a sense of wanting and reward prediction.”

The release of dopamine triggers feelings of excitement and happiness. The more dopamine, the less anxiety and stress.

Radio Keeps People Connected

All of this research and studies point to the power of music itself. In essence, though, listening to music is an individual activity, which in these times can compound the problem of feeling isolated.
Listening to music on the radio can help people feel connected. Much like you probably have your favorite band, artist and/or song, you probably have a favorite radio host.

Good radio hosts don’t just play good music — although they do that, too. Good radio hosts make us feel like they’re our friends. Good radio hosts uplift us by reassuring us that there’s good in the world even when we all might be feeling down. Good radio hosts create a community of people who support each other in trying times. And they do all of this in-between playing music that makes us happy, too.

Today, it’s very simple for us to create our own playlists or listen to a podcast, but there’s simply nothing like listening to music on the radio. Perhaps Hannah Verdier put it best in an article she wrote for The Guardian:
“Radio is a useful tool to give the day structure and provide company if you are home alone. It has a togetherness and reassurance … This isn’t about the latest developments, it is about managing feelings and recognising (sic) that you can’t stay calm all the time — and radio presenters have shown that they are concerned but carrying on, and not afraid to have a laugh.

“The crisis has shown how valuable the medium is and … listeners will need that connection more and more. The days confined to our homes would be even longer without it.”

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a United States-based suicide prevention network of over 160 crisis centers that provides a 24/7, toll-free hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.


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