Listening to music really does chill people out, reduces anxiety

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TORONTO, Ontario — Listening to music really does chill people out, a new study reveals. A team from Ryerson University says treatments integrating music and auditory beat stimulation are particularly effective in reducing anxiety in some patients.

Auditory beat stimulation (ABS) involves combinations of tones, played in one or both ears, designed to trigger changes to brain activity. Studies show cases of anxiety have been steadily increasing, particularly among teenagers and young adults, over recent decades.

However, previous experiments have demonstrated that listening to music can reduce anxiety, perhaps even more effectively than some anti-anxiety medications. Unfortunately, data on the effects of personalized music on anxiety has been lacking.

In the new study, Canadian researchers had 163 patients taking anti-anxiety medications participate in an at-home treatment session involving music, ABS, both, or “pink noise” — background sounds similar to white noise. Artificial intelligence selected the music for each person based on the patient’s emotional state and musical preferences.

The participants also had to download a customized app on their smartphone for the treatment, close their eyes, and listen to a 24-minute session. Among people with moderate anxiety before the treatment session, researchers found greater reductions in the physical symptoms of anxiety after listening to both music and ABS. Patients who listened to music alone also saw greater reductions in comparison to those listening to pink noise.

Study authors saw the greatest reductions in cognitive state anxiety — the aspect of anxiety related to thoughts and feelings — in patients with moderate anxiety who listened to both music and ABS. Among people with high anxiety before the session, the music-only group had “significantly higher” reductions in anxiety compared to the ABS group.

Digital health tools helping more in the pandemic era

Study authors Dr. Frank Russo and Dr. Adiel Mallik conclude that sound-based treatments can be “effective” in reducing anxiety. Music could potentially offer a simple and easily distributable method of treating anxiety in a segment of the population.

“With the pandemic and remote work, there has been a remarkable uptick in the use of digital health tools to support mental health. The results of this clinical trial indicate great promise for the use of digital health tools, such as LUCID’s digital music therapy, in the management of anxiety and other mental health conditions,” the team says in a media release.

“The findings from this research are exciting as they indicate that personalized music shows great promise in effectively reducing anxiety in specific segments of the population that suffer from anxiety,” the researchers conclude.

“Hopefully, with additional research, we can help build a solid evidence base which further supports the use of personalized music as an additional tool in the clinician’s toolbox that can be used to help reduce anxiety in the patient population.”

The findings are published in the journal PLoS ONE.

South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.