Find your Coach
Back to Blog

Listen your way to calm: Learn how to use music relaxation for stress

September 8, 2022 - 15 min read


Jump to section

How can music help you with stress?

How to meditate with music

What type of music should you listen to relax?

Music and positive affirmations

How to use music to improve your well-being

What is the downside of using music as a mood booster?

Level up: How to use music to relieve work stress

I struggle to find something that makes me feel as good as throwing on a great playlist after a long workday. It's been a stressful day, and I'm looking to use music for relaxation from my stress.

What should I put on? Some beautiful piano music, nature sounds, or emotional Adele songs? Does it even matter what type of music I play?

The power of music can take hold of you and your feelings fast. But does music actually reduce stress? That's what we're going to learn today. We'll explore the benefits of music for our mental health and reducing stress. Plus, we'll teach you what types of music you should be adding to your playlist to help you unwind. 

Turn up the volume, and let's go.

How can music help you with stress?

Can music therapy reduce stress and anxiety? Research has shown that music helps with stress management because it decreases physiological arousal, which we experience while stressed.

Regardless of whether we’re experiencing acute or chronic stress, the power of music improves our mental health. It helps reduce stress hormones that flood our brains, like cortisol, and helps our bodies transition back to more of a state of relaxation rather than being on edge.

Here are some other benefits of using music to deal with stress:

  • It slows down our heart rate and blood pressure
  • Our muscles relax, relieving tension
  • Lyrics give us something to focus on
  • It provides a source of motivation for us
  • Songs can be relatable and help us feel connected
  • It can help us regulate our emotions

Sure, a fun song can’t cure problems like your financial stressors — but it can help distract you, ground you, and clear your mind to find a way forward.

New call-to-action

How to meditate with music

Music can do wonders for different types of stress. Meditation is a well-known stress management technique that makes us reflect on ourselves to pay more attention to external factors. It helps with our self-awareness and how we problem-solve challenges that get in our way, like stress, for instance.

Because meditation is all about focusing our energy and attention on one specific thought, it helps draw our focus away from negative thoughts. It allows us to immerse ourselves in calming music and tune out other distractions. Some songs even have rhythms that help keep our focus consistent.

Adding in some music can be a great addition to your workflow. Music has been found to improve mental alertness and reduce anxiety. The vibrations from music travel into our ear canals, rub on our eardrums, and turn into electrical signals. Then, they make their way past the auditory nerve and into the brain stem.


Once these vibrations are in our nervous system, they impact various areas of the brain. For example, the hippocampus, which is responsible for retrieving memories and our emotional regulation, actually produces more neurons and improves memory abilities when it interprets music

It can be a little intimidating to add music into the mix if you’re new to meditating. Worry not, because we have some tips to share to help you with choosing your meditation music:

  • Choose relaxing songs with a slower, more steady tempo
  • Pick songs with lyrics if you need them to direct your thoughts
  • Use headphones to help block out other noises or distractions, or opt for background music to limit distractions 
  • Make your playlist ahead of time to avoid gaps in songs
  • Choose songs that match the specific length of time for your meditation
  • Search meditation playlists for instrumental music, classical music, or nature sounds
  • Be open-minded to new songs to change things up

Meditation is a practice that takes effort and time to be familiar. At BetterUp, our coaches can provide the guidance you need to make meditation part of your daily routine and learn how to enjoy all the benefits it brings you.

What type of music should you listen to relax?

No singular genre is the most relaxing music or benefits every person. Which genre works best varies from person to person, but that's part of the fun. We can take time to explore what's soothing music for us to help find relaxation music for stress relief and healing. We might surprise ourselves and discover that yoga music replaces country as our favorite new genre.

The American Music Therapy Association claims that all styles of music have the potential to create effective change in a patient's life. What you love about country music might differ from a yoga soundtrack — but both benefit you differently. And you might not like rock and roll, but it might be your partner’s favorite.

Music and positive affirmations

Sometimes, our inner critic works against us when we’re dealing with stress. We begin to worry, and our minds fill with negative thoughts while our confidence plummets. But positive affirmations can uplift, motivate, and inspire us to grow our confidence and be bold. 

And where else can we find positive affirmations? Music.

Listening to music with positive lyrics and upbeat tempos does more than manage our stress. It creates an environment where we develop a more optimistic, growth mindset.


Positive affirmations can help us relax and sleep when we're feeling stressed, or they can rev up our engines to make a plan of action. We can feel inspired to tackle our challenges and feel empowered to create change for ourselves. 

For people who feel alone or don't have many people to rely on, songs with positive affirmations can be the voice they need to hear. It can even provide the positive energy we need when our loved ones simply aren’t around to help.

Plus, lyrics with positive affirmations can put us in such a confident, good mood that we inspire others. It's contagious, and it can all start with what songs we play.

How to use music to improve your well-being

We've discussed how music can help us reduce and track our stress. But how and when can we truly use music? Where should we listen to music, and who can we share it with? 

Here are four ways we can use music to improve our well-being:

1. Create rhythms and beats

We don't have to have a musical background to make up beats. We can grab whatever's around us, whether it's a traditional musical instrument or something as small as a pen, and start tapping away. It gives us something to be creative and have fun with. (Just be mindful of your tapping to avoid distracting anyone sitting nearby.)

2. Write song lyrics

Plenty of people shy away from songwriting because they think they don’t have the skill or their singing voice isn't good enough. But who said we have to share these songs with others? They can be private if you prefer them that way. And if we're stuck, we can write new lyrics to songs we already know to create our own version.


3. Create playlists for your activities

Music fits in with a lot of our activities. It can help set the mood for whatever we're doing and motivate to accomplish things. Different music can match your mood when exercising, cooking, or grinding out a project.

You can even use them as a countdown: promise yourself that you’ll clean your apartment until the end of a certain playlist or album, and then you can kick back and watch TV.

Many streaming platforms and music subscriptions like Spotify or Apple Music offer curated playlists of many genres and moods. Experimenting with premade playlists will help you decide what to include in your own.

4. Listen to music with friends

It's fun to share the excitement that music brings with others. Listening to music with friends can help us build good memories, bond, and uplift us. Attending local concerts with your friends means an evening out that revolves around a band you all like, which makes for great bonding.

It's also fun to share new music with others and explore new genres. Consider creating a group chat with your friends or coworkers where you can share songs that you like to share the happy vibes.

What is the downside of using music as a mood booster?

While music can uplift us with positive energy and help stress reduction, it can also do the opposite. That's why we have to be aware of the power of music. Certain types of music can actually worsen our mood.

One study found that 17% of participants said their mood had saddened even more than before because they listened to sad music. If we're already feeling stressed or in despair, listening to sad music that exudes and encourages those same feelings doesn't always help us.

Sad music can spark more thought into our complex emotions, make us feel nostalgic, and fill us with wonder and curiosity. You might find that sad songs help you process negative emotions — but we should avoid that when we're already feeling sad and negative. We need to be mindful of our moods when finding a playlist. 


In the future, as we curate our playlists, we should reflect on our levels of stress. If we could use some positive energy, choose something upbeat and joyous. If we're in the mood to be nostalgic or think deeply about lyrics, then sad music is OK. It's all about finding balance and knowing what we need in the moment.

Level up: How to use music to relieve work stress

It should be no surprise that workplace stress is a significant problem for many people. One Gallup report found that Americans faced the most amount of workplace stress worldwide. Our work environments play a big part in where our stress comes from, so moving forward, let's gear our new learnings of music relaxation for stress toward that.

We know that there's no one single genre of music that provides everyone with relaxing songs. It's up to our preferences. We also know that music that spews positive energy can impact our mindset and confidence while listening to sad music while we're already sad only makes matters worse. 

Here's a list of tips that you can follow to help manage stress at work with the help of music:

  • Create a playlist with music that's motivational and inspirational for your commute
  • Before and after work, make time for meditation with soothing music
  • Set yourself reminders for new song releases to look forward to
  • Focus on lyrics that make you feel connected and at ease
  • Bring headphones to work to block out other noises while you listen to music

Facing workplace stress isn't something you have to do alone. BetterUp can help you develop other strategies to manage your workplace stress to take care of your mental health and keep you dancing at your desk.

New call-to-action

Published September 8, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

Read Next

16 min read | January 27, 2021

Self-management skills for a messy world

Self-management is one of those “must have” skills for today. Maybe you’ve heard it thrown around as something everyone should work on. So the good news is, you can develop... Read More
21 min read | June 7, 2021

Take your mind to the gym: what it really means to be mentally fit

What is mental fitness, and does it involve lifting weights? Learn the difference between mental fitness and mental health, and how to build your mental muscles. Read More
5 min read | May 11, 2021

What happens when organizations care about well-being?

Overall, when organizations care about well-being, the benefits return in the form of a more highly engaged workforce, that is more committed to the organization, better able... Read More
6 min read | June 15, 2021

Did COVID-19 change us for better or for worse?

We asked people, “How much do you think the pandemic has changed you, as a person, for better or worse?” Here's what they said. Read More
17 min read | February 21, 2022

The surprising ways music benefits your brain and body

The benefits of music are vast. Learn how music can help support your mental, physical, and emotional health. Read More
14 min read | August 13, 2022

Just relax! Find out how with progressive muscle relaxation techniques

Curious about progress muscle relaxation techniques? Try the seven we suggest and learn what other stress management techniques can help you find relief. Read More
Professional Development
14 min read | August 22, 2022

Sound on, distractions off: How to use music to concentrate

Here’s the ultimate guide on how to use music to concentrate on accomplishing our tasks. Plus, learn other strategies for concentration if the music doesn’t work. Read More
13 min read | September 10, 2022

Don’t get boredout. Here’s what to do when you’re bored at work

Two-thirds of American workers say they’re bored at work. Here’s how you can stave off the phenomenon known as “boredout.” Read More
15 min read | September 9, 2022

How to control anger at work, take a deep breath.

Interested in learning how to control anger at work? Read how to strengthen your emotional intelligence and learn how to accept your feelings for what they are. Read More

Stay connected with BetterUp

Get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research.