According to neuroscientists, this song has the power to reduce our anxiety levels by 65%. But how does it work? We speak to a clinical psychologist to find out more
Music has the power to completely transform our state of mind. We can all relate to that feeling when our favourite song comes on the radio or driving through town singing along to a track that we know all the words to. Beyond that, music can also soothe us and help us relax, transporting us to a peaceful and tranquil place.
But some songs work better than others, and neuroscientists highlight one song in particular that they say has the ability to reduce our anxiety levels by a staggering 65%. The track is ‘Weightless’ by Marconi Union, and it was at the heart of a study that tested different pieces of music on participants, to measure their reaction.
Conducted by Mindlab International, the study asked participants to complete challenging puzzles as quickly as they could while being monitored by sensors. The puzzles were deliberately designed to induce stress, and while they worked on them, the researchers played different songs and measured their brain activity and physiological states, including their heart rate, blood pressure, and rate of breathing.
What they discovered was that the song ‘Weightless’ was by far the most impactful, and was able to reduce participant’s overall anxiety by an incredible 65%, as well as their physiological resting rate by 35%.
Curious? Listen for yourself.
So how does it work?
“This piece of music uses soothing, subtle, and a gradual build-up of sounds to create a sense of floating and gentle movement,” explains Dr Sidrah Muntaha, a chartered clinical psychologist who uses music in her work. “The imagery it can create in the mind can vary from individual to individual, but overall the sense of regular rhythm through gentle beats can be linked with the beating of our hearts.”
When listening to the piece, Dr Muntaha suggests considering the experience in terms of a foetus developing a sense of sound. Understand the rhythm to be the mother’s heartbeat, which soothes the foetus.
“Music like this may trigger many unconscious memories, and for most of us, this is likely to be experienced as soothing,” Dr Mutaha adds. “However, musical experiences are very subjective and for some this may even induce a stress-like response. It really depends on what an individual associates with these particular sounds and what imagery/associations it brings up in their conscious and unconscious minds.”
How can music support your overall wellbeing?
Music has the ability to reduce anxiety, improve cognitive functioning, and even help with pain management – and these are all things that music therapists will tap into during their sessions.
“As a clinical psychologist, I use music as part of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT-music) to help individuals who wish to engage in psychological therapy, but who find it too difficult to access their emotions solely through verbal language,” says Dr Muntaha. “This approach can be particularly useful for clients who struggle with motivation, those with a tendency to intellectualise, and those who cope through emotional disconnecting as a defence mechanism.”
Dr Muntaha notes how, for those who find connecting and communicating their emotions challenging, music can help them get in touch in a safe and contented way – that isn’t always even conscious – and that makes it easier for them to engage with the therapy.
This approach can be particularly useful for clients who struggle with motivation, those with a tendency to intellectualise, and those who cope through emotional disconnecting as a defence mechanism
But outside of the therapy room, the principles of music therapy can support us in our everyday lives – when things don’t go to plan, when we’re feeling hurt and down, or need to switch off.
“I’ve found that helping a client to use music as part of their coping strategies in relapse prevention plans can be very helpful,” explains Dr Muntaha. “It can, for example, be helpful to listen to soothing music which has a positive effect on you. This could be during relaxation exercises, as part of mindful meditation tasks, or even during stressful situations – for example, travelling on public transport or prior to an interview.
“Engaging actively in making or creating music can also be therapeutic. This includes writing songs using your own experiences – which helps us make sense of our experiences and personal narratives – playing an instrument, or simply singing along to songs that you connect with.”
Music is something that is available to all of us, in one form or another, making it an accessible and potentially deeply effective wellbeing device. Whatever the track is for you, and whichever way that you chose to harness its energy, soothe your mind and tap into the power of song.
How did ‘Weightless’ make you feel? Share your thoughts and join the discussion on the Happiful Readers’ Panel.