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  • Writer's pictureCarla Tanguay, MA, MT-BC

Music for Self Care: 10 ways to reduce stress

You know how important self care is. But sometimes, it’s just another thing on your already overflowing to-do-list. Today we’re sharing ten easy tips that you'll actually want to use! Some of these ask you to set aside some time or space for yourself. Others can be done during your commute, with your family, or when you feel a meltdown coming on. Pick a few, or try them all.

1. Create a sacred space. 

When the chaos of life descends, finding refuge is an emotional lifesaver. While not everyone has a man-cave or she-shed, you can create a space for calm and reflection anywhere using music. A sacred space is a physical or theoretical place specifically dedicated to renewing your spirit and focusing on yourself. Visiting this space for even 5 minutes a day can reduce stress. 

When using music to create a sacred space, I highly recommend good quality headphones. Noise-cancelling headphones are great for blocking out external noise. The idea is to be able to close your eyes, shut out the world, and enter a different level of awareness. Select one or two songs to use specifically during this practice. Over time, they will become a cue to your body and mind that it is time to relax and go within.

2. Get moving.

When we hear music, our bodies want to move. Physical exercise is one of the best ways to fight stress and promote wellness. You don’t need a gym membership to exercise, you just need music! Studies show that when listening to music, people run father, pedal faster, and work out longer. Find upbeat songs of whatever genre you prefer, and get moving! Songs with a tempo of 120 beats per minute are best for walking, while 160 bpm pair well with jogging or more intense exercise. 

Not all exercise is aerobic. Music can also support stretching or yoga practices. The tempo and structure of a song can help you count how long to hold a pose. Put on your favorite music, preferably with a slower tempo (between 80-100 bpm), and take time to stretch, move, and breathe. 

3. Share a memory.

Listening to music from the past is like taking a trip back in time. Putting on a favorite song, particularly one connected to positive, warm memories, instantly changes your mood and sparks memories. In fact, listening to music activates specific brain regions linked to autobiographical memories and emotions. Music-induced memories are more vivid and felt more emotionally. Use music's power to give yourself a boost when you are feeling down, or to reminisce with a good friend.

4. Laugh!

Humor is a great stress reliever. Take every opportunity to laugh and create moments of joy and silly fun this year. Music provides lots of opportunities for laughter, if you don’t take yourself too seriously. Have a sing-along, but require the use of funny voices, whistling, or alternative lyrics. Watch a funny music video. Anything that gets you laughing.

5. Identify triggers.

Not all music has positive associations. Some songs bring back painful memories or reflect difficult feelings that you may not be ready to process in the moment.  It is helpful to identify these triggers and develop strategies for coping when you aren’t able to avoid them completely. If this happens often or is impacting your wellbeing, I highly suggesting working with a skilled therapist who can help you understand these triggers and learn to manage them in a healthy way.  

6. Set an intention.

When you are feeling overwhelmed with tasks, it is helpful to simply stop and set an intention. Setting an intention means asking yourself, “Why am I doing this? What do I want from this?”   

Music can help keep your intention front of mind as you work towards your goals. Pick a song to serve as a reminder when you inevitably get distracted. I love the song, “Reminder” by Travis, but it doesn’t need to be that overt. Your choice should gently bring your attention back to your intention.

7. Make some music.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: you don’t need to be a “musician” to make music. Maybe you are already an accomplished shower-singer or carpool karaoke star. If you don’t already have a musical outlet, find one. Is there is a drum circle or community choir in your town? Maybe you have a dusty old keyboard or guitar hidden in the back of your closet. Maybe you just need to remind yourself to put on your favorite songs and sing with your kids in the car. However you can participate in making music, make it happen. You will feel better.

8. Create a special playlist.

Music is intricately connected to our emotions, as it activates regions of our brain associated with reward, motivation, and arousal. You can tap into the power of music to change your mood by creating special playlists with those moods in mind. A great place to start is with an “energize” and a “calm down” playlist. 

Energizing music, no matter the genre, has certain qualities that activate our bodies and make us feel, well, energized. They capture your attention and make you feel good. Pick songs with faster tempos, upbeat lyrics, and positive associations. Examples include “Dancing Queen” by ABBA, “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, “Summer” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and “Gonna Make You Sweat” by C&C Music Factory. Most importantly, it needs to be music that you enjoy.

A calming playlist uses music with slower tempos and simple accompaniment. Stick to your favorite genres of music, and select pieces that cue you to focus your attention inward. Once you create these playlists, use them to help transition into the headspace you want to be in. You’ll be surprised how effective music is.

9. Have a family dance party!

What is something that incorporates the stress-relieving qualities of music, exercise, laughter, and togetherness, and can be done with any age? A family dance party!

Age and physical ability don’t mean much when dancing. You can get in a great groove seated on a chair. Simple instruments (bells, spoons, sticks) can get reluctant dancers involved. And being a “bad” dancer just makes a dance party more entertaining! Kids of all ages will be delighted to see you let go of your inhibitions, embrace the awkward, and just dance.

10. Gift yourself music. 

When is the last time you gave yourself a gift? This year, make it the gift of music. Music can provide a perfect structure for your “me” time. Join a music group or choir. Learn to play an instrument, or take refresher lessons on one you loved long ago. Attend a community drum circle. Buy yourself a subscription to your favorite music streaming service. Book yourself a self-care music therapy session. Making music a part of your life is one of the best ways you can care for yourself this coming year.

Which of these practices are you going to try? Tell us below! 

Need a little nudge? Let us help! Contact me to learn about music lessons, music therapy, and group music programs in our community. 

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