One effective practice to help with stress is to engage in an activity that helps clear the mind and be in the present moment.
Often people engage in mindfulness and meditation but find it difficult to participate in. The use of listening to music and mindfulness can be an effective way to take the edge off when dealing with stress and anxiety.
Below you’ll find an easy 5-step process to engage with this practice.
Choose a piece of music to listen to. It can either be a familiar or unfamiliar piece.
Take a moment to breathe and ground yourself—no matter where you are, or what’s going on around you. Inhale gently through your nose, and exhale deeply through your open mouth.
Notice your body, and tune into how it feels, whether you’re standing, sitting, walking, or laying down. Notice any physical structures your body is touching (the floor, the chair, or your shoes) as well as any physical sensations (tightness, tension) within your body.
Just listen. Use headphones or earbuds if that helps you focus or shut out external noise. Try paying attention to one instrument in the song. You may find that you will notice something about the song you haven’t heard before.
Let yourself be aware of anything you notice, without judgment or self-criticism. Notice the pace of the music, the sounds of the different instruments, or the shifts in volume. Notice if you’re more aware of a certain part of your body as you listen (i.e., “I often feel vibrations of cello music in my chest.”).
Notice any thoughts or feelings that come up—perhaps the music is connected to a memory, or perhaps an anxious thought is trying to pop through. Let any thoughts pass through your awareness, and then gently bring yourself back to the sounds of the music.
Take a moment to breathe and check-in with your body, breath, and mind (see step 2). Does anything feel differently? Do you notice any shifts after listening to the piece of music? Do you feel calmer? If the piece you chose didn’t feel like a good fit, what might you look for in another piece (i.e., music that louder? slower? has fewer instruments?)?
By taking time and being present, listening to music is a good way to give yourself a break and learn how to control thoughts that may be distressing to you.
Marc Tonogbanua, LMHC, is a therapist at Boston Evening Therapy Associates, and his therapy approach includes Mindfulness, as well as CBT and Person-Centered Therapy. Marc specializes in Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Substance use, Psychosis, Trauma, Work/Life Balance, and Parenting issues.