In times of stress and trauma, people turn towards the “right” song to cope. Credit: Burst via Pexels

In the past, students might not have put much thought into their choice of tunes for their daily walk to class, but now, in times of high stress, choosing the right song is more important than ever. 

Daniel Shanahan, an associate professor in music theory and cognition, said genre of music does not correlate to stress, but certain musical features of a song — such as fast tempos, loud volume and energetic lyrics — do have an effect on blood pressure. 

“Those are things that are really good to listen to when you’re working out, but they’re not really good to listen to if you want to calm down and destress,” Shanahan said.

Although fast tempos and upbeat songs may not be the best to listen to while alone and stressed, a study published in the Evolution and Human Behavior peer-reviewed journal in 2016 shows that dancing with another person in synchrony can release endorphins. 

“One genre that might seem really exciting — you might have one reaction to it if you listen to it alone — but if you’re dancing together with friends, it could actually serve a very useful purpose to destress,” Shanahan said. 

For Arved Ashby, a professor of music and the area head of musicology, ambient music is the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to stress relief. 

Due to it not being very structured and having no real beginning or end, Ashby said ambient music can easily be ignored, which makes the genre a strong contender to choose from while studying.  

“Ambient music is not music that makes you think in a particular way or distracts you as traditionally pretty much all music does,” Ashby said. “So I imagine that quite a few people might find this kind of music to be much more stress reductive.”

But the relationship between people’s moods and their music actually connects them to humanity as a whole.  

Shanahan said he believes part of music’s evolutionary role is social bonding and social cohesion, which has been seen in other times of high stress throughout history. He said the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic is an example of how people used blues music to cope during a time of high stress.

Social connection through music is something Shanahan said has also been seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. This connection has been seen in social media videos of residents in Italy singing from their porches in high-rise apartments. 

“One of the main purposes of music is social bonding. And so when they can’t actually interact and have gatherings, what do they do? You find them going to the balconies to sing to each other,” Shanahan said.