The Oxford English Dictionary describes stress as pressure or tension exerted on a material object or a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.
When we are subjected to stressful life circumstances, our system responds by releasing hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These create a fight-or-flight response. It may result in muscle tension, digestive problems, low libido, sleep deprivation, restlessness, panic attacks, and a whole host of other symptoms.
A healthy system will find ways to self-regulate by releasing the stress and therefore maintaining balance. To do this, we usually choose some kind of activity that facilitates stress release. But if the release is disabled or disallowed, we experience disease.
Stress-related diseases are on the increase worldwide. In the UK the HSE commissioned a survey on mental health of the workforce in 2014. It showed that:
- There were 487,000 cases (39 percent) of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2013-14 out of a total of 1,241,000 cases for all work-related illnesses.
- There were 244,000 new cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2013-14.
- 11.3 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2013-14, an average of 23 days per case.
According to the Telegraph, stress increases the risk of death fivefold. So we are talking about a killer, and one that is on the increase. What can we do about it?
Sound therapy is the use of sound applied in a particular way with the aim of helping the system to recognize and release the tension held on these levels. It is one of the easiest therapies to receive because it can be self-administered through headphones. For targeted work with a particular issue or symptom then a trained sound therapist should be able to compose a piece specifically for you.
We are hardwired to respond to certain sounds in certain ways. For example, high-pitched sounds in a certain frequency band will stimulate the system, as they are very like the human scream or a baby’s cry. Low sounds tend to encourage relaxation. Repeated slow rhythm such as a heartbeat will lull us into a deep meditative state. It is likely that this is due to the sound of our mother’s heartbeat while we were in her womb. Fast-tempo “chopped up” sounds such as are found in modern dance music tend to stimulate. Long, undulating sounds that you would find in meditative or slow classical music will relax.
This is rather simplistic, as there are more factors involved in sound therapy, but these are the basic building blocks. Try this experiment:
Sing an AHH sound on a low pitch for a few minutes. Now sing an EEE sound on a high pitch. How do you feel?
Most people will say that the low-pitched “AHH” made them feel relaxed, heavy and sleepy and the high-pitched EEE woke them up. These are two very simple ways to administer sound to yourself whenever you need to relax or get your brain ready for a meeting or presentation but for deep relaxation, you can take a soundbath for your own sound therapy relaxation session.
Man with headphones photo available from Shutterstock