Wednesday, 4 February 2015

How Can It Feel So Good, Yet Be So Wrong

Stress, let’s face it, we all experience it whether it’s on a daily basis, it’s still there.  We have events that occur in our lives that make us stressed; whether this is due to a recent break-up, an upcoming exam, a business meeting, etc.  Stress does a lot of damage to our bodies, and has been found to be a factor towards the development of hypertension and cardiovascular disease, such as heart disease.  To top it all off, stress does not make us feel good about our lives and leads to a lot of negative emotions and thoughts.  There are so many different ways to become stressed, but what can one do to reduce and alleviate this horrible feeling?

Personally, and for many people I know, I use music as a way to de-stress-ify myself.  All I feel I need to do is plug in my headphones and play my happy song, “You Make My Dreams Come True” by Hall and Oates (1980), and then I feel worry free. But do I really feel better?

A recent study from the Netherlands by Radstaak, Geurts, Brosschot, and Kompier (2014) is interested in that very question.  Their study focused on the two aspects of stress, high bodily arousal (e.g., blood pressure and heart rate) and impaired mood, and how preferred music impacts the recovery of these parts of stress.  Since music is typically seen as a good distractor by redirecting our thoughts, it was predicted that music would be a successful diversion strategy to reduce stress.  Not surprisingly, after being put through a mental math task while being harassed, the participants were successfully stressed.  Following the task, people were either asked to listen to their preferred relaxing or happy song, while others were asked to listen to an audio tape or sit in silence.  SURPRISE, those who listened to their own relaxing or happy music felt more positive emotions after the stressful math, compared to those listening to the audiotape or sitting in silence.  However, those who listened to their relaxing or happy music had delayed bodily recovery from the stressful event.  It was found that those who were listening to music might have felt better, but they had delayed blood pressure recovery.

A debate rises from this study, if you are feeling stressed should you listen to music and feel emotionally better while simultaneously not benefitting your body? Or, should you sit and listen to your own thoughts while your body has the time to recover? 

This is not to say you should stop listening to music; rather, more of a suggestion to contemplate avoiding listening to music following stress. Although listening to music after a stressful event or time can make us feel better and help us regain our positive mood sooner, this research suggests that it may be better for your body if you just grin and bear the negative mood.  As for many things in life, just because it feels good, does not mean it is good for you. 

Olivia Wassing

Radstaak, M., Geurts, S. A. E., Brosschot, J. F., & Kompier, M. A. J. (2014). Music and psychophysiological recovery from stress.Psychosomatic Medicine, 76(7), 529-537. doi:

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