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August 2017

Stress Management, Music, and Audio Medicine

One of the biggest contributors to ALL DIS-EASE is chronic stress and our ability to manage it.  Today we live in a world of immediacy - our cell phones are always on and we are continually surrounded by multiple interactive screens that clamor for our attention 24/7.   If we don't detach and let go of these stressors, we start to have warning signs that our bodies are not tolerating the flood of stress based chemicals (like cortisol and worse).  These symptoms can include depression, insomnia, irritability, stomach distress, migraines, eye twitching, joint pain, and fatigue.  Over time, this can manifest into more serious issues such as type diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and autoimmune diseases. 

What to do?  First of all, I have had to force myself to detach from the stressful inputs coming from my cell phone, computer, TV, Amazon Echos, iPads, etc.   One way I found to do this is to turn off the notifications during rest periods, and use these devices to provide the relaxation I need.   A device is not in and of itself inherently bad - and technology is a double-edged sword.  How do I do this?   During dinner, my husband and I take turns requesting our Amazon Echo to play music we love.   I request jazz, he usually goes for blues and classic rock but we learn from each other about different artists and types of music.  This provides a nice pause from a work-from-home never ending business day.  Secondly,I have discovered the use of headphones and two types of audio engineered tracks that reduce stress by managing brainwaves; isochiral music and binaural music.   Isochiral music works by stimulating parts of the brain that govern a specific area of interest.  Users such as myself have reported surprisingly positive results, and many apps can be found in the Apple store from a bunch of different vendors.  Binaural music is similar, but works through headphones by having one frequency sent to one ear and a different one to another ear - as your brain splits the difference.  I have also had great results with these tracks as well - as long as I take the time to actually put my headphones on during my stressful day to take advantage of these wonderful resources! Remember, things don't work unless you use them.  I have also found that results only come with consistency.  Doing it once and expecting it to work miracles just doesn't happen. 

As a musician, I may be a bit biased but I also feel that we are just beginning to uncover the many health benefits of listening to live music.  I attended the Blues and Bones festival in Angels Camp, CA this weekend, and I literally felt the stress falling off my shoulders while listening!  Music has a purifying, refining effect on our central nervous systems, and it lifts us above our daily concerns to an entirely new state of consciousness.  In this sense, musicians are our new "medical doctors" as they spin healing frequencies and rhythms all around us while practicing their craft. 

Mental health professionals and scientists are learning more every day about how music affects us in a positive way.  From the American Psychological Association:

"While music has long been recognized as an effective form of therapy to provide an outlet for emotions, the notion of using song, sound frequencies and rhythm to treat physical ailments is a relatively new domain, says psychologist Daniel J. Levitin, PhD, who studies the neuroscience of music at McGill University in Montreal. A wealth of new studies is touting the benefits of music on mental and physical health. For example, in a meta-analysis of 400 studies, Levitin and his postgraduate research fellow, Mona Lisa Chanda, PhD, found that music improves the body's immune system function and reduces stress. Listening to music was also found to be more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety before surgery (Trends in Cognitive Sciences, April, 2013).

"We've found compelling evidence that musical interventions can play a health-care role in settings ranging from operating rooms to family clinics," says Levitin, author of the book "This is Your Brain on Music" (Plume/Penguin, 2007). The analysis also points to just how music influences health. The researchers found that listening to and playing music increase the body's production of the antibody immunoglobulin A and natural killer cells — the cells that attack invading viruses and boost the immune system's effectiveness. Music also reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

"This is one reason why music is associated with relaxation," Levitin says."

I look forward to the day when doctor's prescribe one hour of John Coltrane, followed by a smattering of the Beatles and Zepplin instead of opiods for pain!