Relaxation Music to Soothe Stress and Anxiety

Feeling a little edgy? You’re not alone. Stress and anxiety seem to be surging now, and many people are looking for ways to relax. It’s more important than ever to take good care of yourself and proactively manage anxiety and stress. A regular relaxation practice can help you remain healthy and resilient in the face of whatever challenges arise, and relaxation music is one of the surest ways to calm your nervous system and create a soothing environment.

Stress and Anxiety Can Be Managed

Unfortunately, stress has gotten out of control for many in our society. A 2022 research study by the American Psychological Association found that 76% of adults reported negative health effects of stress in the month prior, including headaches, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. Their worries included the environmental crisis, inflation, gun violence, and the erosion of civil liberties.

To be sure, there is plenty to feel stressed about. But unmanaged stress doesn’t do anything to help alleviate the causes of stress and, in fact, leaves the individual with less energy to tackle problems successfully. By managing stress effectively, you can maintain your health and well-being, and feel strong enough to fight another day. 

Relaxation sounds can be a powerful antidote to stress and anxiety. Relaxing music can be used on its own or in conjunction with other relaxation techniques, such as yoga or meditation. If you’re engaged in mental health counseling and treatment, playing relaxation music can be utilized as an adjunct to your work with a counselor to help reduce stress between appointments. Some of the best things about relaxation music are that it is safe for use by everyone, does not require a prescription, and has no negative side effects.



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



The Science Behind Relaxing Music

The use of music for relaxation is a scientific, evidence-based practice supported by an explosion of recent research in the relatively new discipline of biomusicology, which draws on and synthesizes work in the fields of auditory neuroscience, social neuroscience, psychology of music, and music cognition. A 2021 meta-analysis of research on the effects of music therapy on anxiety concluded that “music therapy can significantly improve anxiety during treatment.”

Our brains and bodies are hardwired to respond to music in predictable ways based on our biological, psychological, and physiological commonalities. As social beings, we are keenly attuned to the dynamics of the human voice, and the human brain interprets the tones and pitches in music as a form of communication. Our perception of rhythm in music is likewise connected to our sensitivity to spoken language. When someone says that a particular piece of music “speaks to them,” there’s more truth in that statement than they may realize.

These biological premises provide a basis for composing or selecting relaxation music that is designed to soothe and calm the nervous system. The best relaxation music will generally be slow in tempo and relatively low in frequency, without any high pitches, which are more stimulating than relaxing. Rhythms will be gentle, and there won’t be any sudden changes or startling sounds. Music for relaxing may or may not have vocals or lyrics, depending on the listener’s activity level and relaxation goal.


Relaxation Music for Activities

Relaxation music can be the perfect accompaniment to activities like yoga and stretching. You might want to play music to enhance the calming effect of hobbies like drawing and painting, jewelry-making, woodwork, or whatever you enjoy doing to relax. Having a glass of wine with a friend, having a cozy family dinner, or playing a game with your kids can be transformed into a stress-reducing activity by creating a comforting ambiance with music.

Music for relaxing activities will be slightly different from music for deep relaxation, or relaxing music for sleep. More variety is possible, including music with more pronounced rhythm, melody, harmony, and vocals. If you’re working on a project, the best relaxation music is music that helps you really get in the zone, where you forget about everything else for a while. If you’re hanging out with other people, the right music can support the feeling of togetherness, what biomusicologists would call synchrony. 


Listen to a selection of relaxation music here:


Music for Deep Relaxation

When you want to get relaxed enough to meditate or fall asleep, music for deep relaxation can help you get there. The iso principle is an important technique used in music therapy, in which the therapist starts the patient off with music that matches the patient’s mood and intensity; then, the therapist gradually changes the music over time to help the patient transition to the desired state. 

You can make use of the iso principle for yourself as well: if you can tell that you’re too anxious or stressed to go directly to deep relaxation, take a little time with some intermediary music, or play relaxing sounds like the music for relaxing activities described above. Then move on to relaxing meditation music, music for deep relaxation, and, if desired, relaxing sleep music.

Music for deep relaxation should have little to no rhythm, melody, or harmony, and no lyrics. The goal is to provide as little stimulation as possible while providing a calming focus for the brain. The music should not pose a distraction. If the ultimate goal is to fall asleep, music for deep relaxation will help prepare you for bedtime. 


Make Relaxing a Priority

When life is hectic with competing demands, it can be hard to make the time and space to take care of our own health and wellness, but it’s vital that we do. Making relaxing a priority may bring benefits such as improved physical and mental health, as well as a more positive outlook and increased energy. Relaxation music is an easy way to create an oasis of calm in your busy day.