Calming Music and Mental Health and Wellness

So many challenges in life can be eased with the help of the right music, and mental health is one area where music shines. For the many people struggling with stress and anxiety—and actively looking for self-care practices that can help them feel more relaxed on a daily basis—calming music may be the answer. For those being treated for anxiety or other mental health issues, music for mental health and relaxation could be incorporated as a useful component of their treatment plan. 

If you’ve ever wondered, “How can music help with mental health?,” keep reading for some of the evidence for music as therapy, the best relaxing music to listen to, and info about the iso principle as it is utilized in music therapy.

Evidence for the effectiveness of music for anxiety

Most people have personal, anecdotal evidence for how music has helped them quell anxiety—perhaps a favorite song they played before an exam or an interview, or calming music they listen to each night to help them relax before bed. But in fact there is scientific evidence for the relationship between music and mental health—research has shown that music can have a significant impact on the reduction of anxiety. A 2021 meta-analysis of 32 randomized controlled trials with almost 2,000 participants showed that “music therapy significantly reduced anxiety compared to the control group at post-intervention.” In another meta-analysis covering 81 randomized controlled trials, focused on the effectiveness of music for reducing anxiety and pain in surgical patients, it was found that “music interventions significantly decreased anxiety and pain compared with controls.”


The best calming music for anxiety

What’s the best music for anxiety and mental health? While there’s always an element of personal preference, there are also evidence-based guidelines to consider when looking for the best relaxing music for anxiety. In general, music with prolonged tones and minimal rhythmic structure is soothing and decreases arousal. Music for relaxation and stress reduction should be free of energy-intensive musical elements like strong attacks and decays, interval leaps, high pitches, and extreme dynamics. Using these parameters as a guide will help you choose the best calming music for your needs.


Music for anxiety and the iso principle

If you’re interested in learning how to calm anxiety with music, exploring the iso principle may be extremely useful. The iso principle is used in music therapy to help clients move from one state or mood to another. If a client is anxious, the music therapist designs the session to help them transition from a state of anxiety to a calmer, more relaxed mood. 

At the outset of the session, the music therapist meets the client where they’re at, playing music that mirrors the client’s initial state. This is a vital component of the technique, because it gives the client a visceral sensation of having their current mood seen, heard, and understood. For someone anxious, that might mean that the session begins with music that has more energy or dissonance. Gradually, the music therapist changes the music to become more steady, soothing, and relaxing. 

Relaxing music arc based on iso principle

You can make use of the iso principle yourself to go from stressed and anxious to relaxed and calm. When you’re feeling stressed, begin with music that resonates with how you’re feeling inside, and then transition the music to take yourself on a journey that becomes increasingly relaxing.


Music as medicine

The connection between music and mental health is a strong one: music has been used and enjoyed for the promotion of positive mental states for millennia. Our brains and bodies are hardwired to respond in predictable ways to certain types of sounds, and with a little knowledge we can use this for the benefit of our health. Music is unique as a treatment because it is free (or almost free), does not require a prescription, can be accessed nearly anywhere and at any time, and has no unwanted side effects. It is also infinitely adaptable, and can be utilized to address many different kinds of symptoms; for example, calming music is very effective at easing anxiety, while upbeat music can cheer people up and help them access their motivation.



Excerpt from "The Science of Music as Medicine" a webinar with Dr. Daniel Bowling, a neuroscientist and instructor at Stanford University, and functional music advisor. Watch the full webinar here


If you’ve been seeking out resources for how to calm anxiety, music for mental health is just one tool for your toolbox. Don’t forget to talk with your physician or therapist about your anxiety, and engage support from those around you. If you’d like some ideas for how to deal with anxiety, check out the mental health resources listed below. 

Wellness music has the potential to be uniquely beneficial for many health and well-being purposes—including soothing anxiety—because most of us have good access to it, and it can be implemented quickly. Wishing you success with using calming music to feel better!



Disclaimer The content in this blog post is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a health condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 or local emergency number immediately.



Mental health resources

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
You can CALL or TEXT 988 to be connected with a trained crisis worker.
This service is confidential and free.

CDC Resources for Mental Health

National Institute of Mental Health