Music Therapy For Stress Relief

  • Chimdi OkoyeBS, Pharmaceutical Science with Regulatory Affairs, Kingston University

Stress and Mental health

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported in 2001 that stress and mental health-related disorders are identified as marked factors that lead to early death in Europe. This is even more prevalent among middle-aged populations. Studies have shown that psychosocial factors like working conditions have significant impacts on mental distress and consequently, the well-being of an individual.1 The accumulative effect of daily stressors has been recognised as an important predictor of depression and anxiety symptoms. It is worthy of note that even though stress is markedly important as a risk factor for mental health disorders, not everyone subjected to stressful conditions would experience mental health challenges. The effects of other intervening and external factors which may vary from one individual to another must be considered. Many factors are involved in the association between mental health and daily stress. Such factors that should be accounted for include self-esteem, available social support, and social identity among others.2

Music Therapy in Stress Management

Music therapy (MT) is fast becoming an instrument in the reduction of stress in some medical and mental health services. These interventions are coordinated by qualified music therapists with the use of personally customised music interventions. Existing interventions have mostly been the use of tranquilising drugs which have been shown to have numerous unpleasant physiological effects, as well as dependence and tolerance which makes them prone to abuse and misuse with debilitating consequences. Therefore, therapy involving non-pharmacological interventions is a desirable option for preventing and managing stress and deserves more study and evaluation of its efficacy.

Stress refers to the psychological and physiological distress that results from the interaction between an individual and their environment. This may manifest physically as aroused negative emotional states.

Stress reduction has been attributed to listening to music by many studies. This is evidenced by lowering heart rates, mean arterial blood pressure, as well as cortisol levels. MT has also been shown to reduce anxiety, subjective worrisome states, and even restlessness. Additionally, in group settings, music has been found to lead to group synchronisation, which triggers a pleasant feeling of togetherness and bonding due to the release of oxytocin and endorphin neurotransmitters which are important in bodily defence against stress.3

In recent times, many neuroscientific studies have confirmed the efficacy of music interventions in the reduction of stress and improvement of overall well-being. Music therapy is effective as music has the ability to modulate activity in brain structures that are concerned with emotional states, such as the deactivation of the amygdala, which releases endorphins to regulate and even reduce the intensity of stressful emotional processes. Consequently, this manifests as a feeling of happiness and relaxation.4

Music therapy

Music therapy is the use of evidence-based music interventions to achieve personalised therapeutic goals (emotional, mental, social, and physical). It is popularly used in a wide range of medical interventions and clinical settings. Examples of such settings include oncology, rehabilitation, mental health care, forensic health care, and many nursing homes.

MT service delivery requires the training and qualification of a music therapist who must have sufficient knowledge in psychology, music, and medicine. They utilise the melody, rhythm, tempo, pitch and dynamics of music according to each patient’s needs to influence the patient's behaviour and access their emotions and memories. This can be executed using the mirroring technique, whereby, the music therapist expertly arranges the music qualities in an order familiar to the patient moment-to-moment. The musical actions of both the therapist and the patient thereafter become regulated and synchronised through time, showing similar movements, rhythm, and even a matching pulse. Studies show that the tempo and volume of the music are also important in the music intensity. This intervention can be provided to an individual patient or as a group.3

MT interventions can be broadly divided into two; the active and the receptive interventions. On the one hand, active interventions involve patients being allowed to manipulate the music they have preferred during the therapy sessions. Music improvisation, music/song composition, singing, and movements are some of the improvisations observed. However, in receptive music therapy, the intervention involves monitoring the patient’s response to the music provided. The music is provided and must have been pre-recorded or live. The patient listens to the music which may help them process their emotions and experiences.3

Music interventions involve deliberate musical exercises where music-making and listening are essential. Interventions may be provided by a music therapist, another health provider, or self-administered; where music is used as a medicine. In practice, music intervention services provided by a music therapist differ significantly from music interventions provided by other health professionals. Music interventions as a part of music therapy are administered by a qualified music therapist and involve the use of therapeutic procedures, as well as the utilisation of experiences personalised to the individual. It is therefore expected that specific attributes that make up the music will help reduce the effects of stress on the patient. For instance, the tempo of the music is believed to be a prominent factor in relaxation and music arousal. Slow-tempo music (60-80 bpm) has been shown to lower heart rate and help relax individuals. Similarly, music that involves only instrumentals has been found to be more relaxing than those with lyrics, which may be distracting and less calming for the stressed patient. Also, many other studies show that live music has a more potent effect on stress reduction in patients as compared to prerecorded music.

The effect of music interventions among many patients and varying clinical settings has been widely studied. Many of these have shown positive outcomes and stress reduction levels for the patients involved. Tranquilising music before, during, and after medical procedures in clinical settings has been shown to help with lowering cortisol levels, thus lowering the stress and anxiety of the individual. The impact varies from study to study and is based on varying factors such as settings, patient/client variability, and intervention characteristics. The low cost, proven efficacy, and lack of side effects make music interventions worthy of consideration and increased attention for thorough research in their use in the management of stress-related problems.4


The article explores the use of music therapy as a non-pharmacological intervention for stress relief and mental health management. Stress and mental health disorders have been identified by the World Health Organization as a leading cause of early death among many populations, especially among middle-aged individuals. Music therapy services are provided by qualified and trained music therapists who are able to offer personalised intervention in stress reduction as an alternative to the use of tranquilising drugs which have been known to cause harmful side effects. Studies show that listening to music has the capability to lower heart rates, blood pressure, and cortisol levels, as well as lower anxiety and relieve stress. Neuroscientific studies support the efficacy of music as an instrument to trigger a feeling of happiness and relaxation. The tempo of the music is important, as well as the volume and the settings. The low cost and lack of side effects make music therapy a promising avenue for further research and implementation in stress-related problems.


  1. Kopp MS, Stauder A, Purebl G, Janszky I, Skrabski A. Work stress and mental health in a changing society. The European Journal of Public Health 2008;18:238–44. Available from:
  2. Schönfeld P, Brailovskaia J, Bieda A, Zhang XC, Margraf J. The effects of daily stress on positive and negative mental health: Mediation through self-efficacy. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology 2016;16:1–10. Available from:
  3. De Witte M, Pinho ADS, Stams G-J, Moonen X, Bos AER, Van Hooren S. Music therapy for stress reduction: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Health Psychology Review 2022;16:134–59. Available from:
  4. De Witte M, Spruit A, Van Hooren S, Moonen X, Stams G-J. Effects of music interventions on stress-related outcomes: a systematic review and two meta-analyses. Health Psychology Review 2020;14:294–324. Available from:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Olajide Otuyemi

BPharm, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Nigeria; MPH University of Ilorin, Nigeria; MSc. Drug discovery, development, and delivery, Liverpool John Moores University, UK

Olajide Otuyemi is an experienced pharmacist and public health specialist with years of experience and a proven track record in the pharmaceutical industry and global health. His knowledge and experience spans across research, pharmaceuticals, patient education, and public health initiatives. He is passionate about health education and empowering others to make informed decisions to support positive health outcomes. He hopes to continue making high-quality medical information accessible and available to all.

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