De-stressing – Why You Should Get Brahms and Liszt!
21 March 2019

Wellbeing – music and health – stress

This week we had International Happiness Day. I have no doubt that in these days of acute Brexhaustion more than one eyebrow was cynically raised at the concept. If you’re Brexed out (and who is not?) there is a realisztic (sic) answer and that is to listen to some music. So tune in to music by Brahms and Liszt but don’t get Brahms and Liszt (Cockney rhyming slang for “pissed”)!

Mozart is an ideal choice. Music will probably calm you down and make you feel less stressed. Aside from the delightfully zany Lisa Tarbuck on R2, our radio is almost always tuned to Classic FM where B-words mean Beethoven, Brahms, Bach, Bartók, Belioz, Bizet and Britten and mercifully not the Other Thing. Fabulous soothing music is just about keeping us sane at the moment…

Seventeenth century playwright, William Congreve said: "Music has charms to soothe a savage breast." It’s true. There are several pieces of scientific research that support Congreve’s assertion.

  • The form and structure of a piece of music can bring order and security to disabled and distressed children.
  • Music can help reduce both the sensation and distress of both chronic pain and postoperative pain.
  • Elderly people who listen to music find that depression can be reduced, and self-esteem increased.
  • Making music can reduce burnout and improve mood among nursing students.
  • Music therapy significantly reduces emotional distress and boosts quality of life among adult cancer patients.

Studies also show an increase in wellbeing and reduction in pain in studies involving surgical procedures. One study of 40 cataract patients examined how music affects surgical patients. 20 patients received ordinary care; the other half received the same care but also listened to music of their choice through headphones before, during, and immediately after the operations.

Assessments were made of the patients before surgery. The patients in both groups had similar blood pressures; a week before the operations, the average was 129/82 millimetres of mercury (mm Hg). The average blood pressure in both groups rose to 159/92 just before surgery, and in both groups, the average heart rate jumped by 17 beats per minute.

Those who did not listen to music remained hypertensive throughout the operation, while the pressures of those who listened to music came down rapidly and stayed down into the recovery room, where the average reduction was an impressive 35 mm Hg systolic (the top number) and 24 mm Hg diastolic (the bottom number).

During the operation the cataract patients who listened to music reported that they felt calmer and better. The ophthalmologic surgeons had no problems communicating with their patients over the sound of the music.

In the cataract study, the patients were awake during their operations. But in a different study of ten critically ill post-operative patients, researchers found that music can reduce the stress response even when patients are not conscious.

Each of the patients were receiving the powerful intravenous sedative propofol, so they could be maintained on breathing machines in the intensive care unit (ICU). Half the patients wore headphones that played slow movements from Mozart piano sonatas, while the other half wore headphones that did not play music. Nurses who didn't know which patients were hearing music reported that those who heard music required significantly less propofol to maintain deep sedation than those patients wearing silent headphones. The music recipients also had lower blood pressures and heart rates as well as lower blood levels of the stress hormone adrenaline and the inflammation-promoting cytokine interleukin-6.

One study carried out in Italy of 24 healthy volunteers, half of whom were proficient musicians, found that tempo is important. Slow or meditative music produced a relaxing effect; faster tempos produced arousal, but immediately after the upbeat music stopped, the subjects' heart rates and blood pressures came down to below their usual levels, indicating relaxation.

This is all very interesting, but what’s all this got to do with you as a manager?

We know that listening to music can have a tremendously relaxing effect on minds and bodies, especially slow, quiet classical music.

  • Listen to music to de-stress yourself.
  • You can recommend it to stressed colleagues.
  • You could consider playing music or allowing employees to listen to music on headphones.

Stress and the ill health employees suffer in consequence of it is a significant problem in the workplace. Music is a stress management tool so use it to help keep your team fit, health and productive.

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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2021 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.