The lockdown measures during the COVID-19 pandemic were a source of social and economic disruption that increased stress levels worldwide. During quarantine social gatherings, celebrations and cultural events to relieve stress and raise spirits were not possible, and this added to what was already a very stressful time.
One strategy, however, for coping with stress remained — listening to music.
A team of European researchers found that listening to happy or upbeat music during the pandemic momentarily reduced stress and improved mood. People reported feeling extra energized and awake when listening to more upbeat music than their usual selections. The opposite effect was seen when they listened to calmer music.
“Previous studies found that objective characteristics of music, such as the tempo, control the autonomic nervous system, which regulates psychophysiological arousal” — the intersection between mental health and how one feels physically, said the University of Vienna researchers.
Although the size of the effects of listening to music were small, they may be clinically relevant because music is so readily available in daily life.
Data from 711 participants were collected between April 1 and May 8, 2020. Participants were prompted by a smartphone app five times per day over a seven-day period to report on their experiences and feelings during strict COVID lockdown. They provided almost 4,700 reports of listening to music.
Participants who reported higher levels of chronic stress than others said they listened to music as a distraction. They also noted bigger improvements in mood after listening to music, a finding that researchers did not expect to see in those with high levels of chronic stress.
Other studies have shown music’s stress-relieving benefits may be limited in certain situations, “However, these situations might not be comparable to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the researchers said.
The findings are consistent with other research done during earlier stages of the pandemic, they added. For example, one study found that those who indicated they had higher stress levels and more negative emotions because of the pandemic listened to music to improve their mood.
Although the size of the effects they saw were small, the researchers said, the findings may well be clinically relevant because music is so readily available in daily life. And since the study was observational, it did not prove a direct cause and effect connection between music and stress relief. The researchers also point out that the study lacked a pre- and post-lockdown control, so in the future scientists will need to determine if the current findings were specific to lockdown.
In the meantime, you may want to put on some tunes if you are feeling stressed out.
The study is published in JAMA Network Open.