Shot of happy senior woman listening to music with headphones at a retirement home

The simple addition of music to daily life may lead to better health outcomes in times of chronic stress, such as enforced isolation during the pandemic.

That’s according to an app study conducted between April 1 and May 8, 2020, which asked participants in Austria and Italy to provide data about their experiences while their countries were on strict lockdown. 

The investigators, from the University of Vienna in Austria, analyzed in-the-moment stress and mood using visual analog scales supplied by the app. These are similar to the visual pain scale commonly used in U.S. healthcare settings. Participants received prompts five times per day over seven consecutive days, including the option to provide self-reports on music listening. At the end of the study, they were asked to assess their perceived stress levels.

The 711 participants provided more than 19,000 data points, including 4,677 reports on their music listening behaviors and habits. Music listening was associated with lower momentary stress levels and improvements in mood, the researchers found. Notably, music listening appeared to be most beneficial to study participants who reported higher levels of chronic stress. This included improvement in mood and “energetic arousal,” lead author Anja C. Feneberg, PhD, reported. 

“Happy music, in particular, was associated with lower stress levels and improved mood across time and across individuals” Feneberg and colleagues wrote. The results suggest that music may be a easily accessible tool with which to manage mood and stress in daily life, they added.

“Because music is highly popular across cultures and age groups and readily available at almost no cost, music listening can be considered a low-threshold intervention to improve health and well-being on the population level during times of crisis,” the authors concluded.

The study was published in JAMA Network Open.

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