What if I could show you a way to calm anxiety in just a few minutes, using principles of neuroscience?
It’s not a permanent solution. But I remembered reading about this years ago, and I tried it this week.
Frankly, I was blown away at how quickly and effectively it worked.
It has to do with listening to a single, eight-minute audio track that was designed and recorded in a way to trigger specific neurological reactions in your brain.
A colleague here on Inc.com wrote once that it reduces anxiety by 65 percent. I admit that I approached it with skepticism, but since it’s only eight minutes, and it required almost zero effort, I gave it a try.
The audio track is included at the bottom of this article, if you’d rather skip ahead. But, I think it helps to put this all in context first.
More than half of Americans anticipated Election Day this year would be the most stressful day of their lives. Add coronavirus, the economic situation, and the general anxiety that many of us feel as a product of early 21st century life?
The word I settle on is “SOBAR,” for “stressed out beyond all recognition.”
Sometimes, the solution is therapy or medical help. I’ve certainly availed myself of these at times; it’s wildly outdated to suggest any stigma associated with seeking professional help for mental health.
But there are also some very simple things you can yourself: short, intense periods of exercise are highly effective, as well as being intentional about spending time with friends (even virtually).
Meditation works, as does adding plants and other greenery to your work space. Oh, and going for an “awe walk” in nature, as my colleagues Minda Zetlin and Jessica Stillman have reported on recently, yields fascinating results.
(Based on their advice, I took an “awe walk” of my own on Election Day; it helped a bit, and I got some great photos out of it.)
But this eight-minute musical interlude might well be the most intriguing.
It dates back to 2011, when a British band called Marconi Union teamed up with sound therapists to create a track called “Weightlessness,” that would stimulate specific neurological reactions when people listened to it.
Among them: a lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, and reduced levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
Researchers said they then played the song for a group of 40 women, tracking their breathing, brain activity and blood pressure, and found it to be 11 percent more relaxing than the next-most-stress-reducing song they could find, according to results published in the British newspaper, The Telegraph.
“The song … contains a sustaining rhythm that starts at 60 beats per minute and gradually slows to around 50. While listening, your heart rate gradually comes to match that beat,” Lyz Cooper, founder of the British Academy of Sound Therapy, told the newspaper.
The fact that the song is almost exactly eight minutes is important, she added, because, “it takes about five minutes for this process, known as entrainment, to occur.”
Additional elements, include the structure of the gaps between the song’s notes (designed to “create a feeling of euphoria and comfort,” according to Cooper), and the fact that there is “no repeating melody, which allows your brain to completely switch off because you are no longer trying to predict what is coming next.”
The whole trick comes down to research that shows that “music works at a very deep level within the brain, stimulating not only those regions responsible for processing sound but also ones associated with emotions,” said Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson, a neuropsychologist who oversaw the study.
Anyway, given where we are in the world, and despite my skeptism for quick fixes, I tried it.
Reader, it worked. During the time that I listened to the song — fully aware of what it was designed to do — I felt myself relaxing.
The mild sinus headache I’d been enduring disappeared. I could feel my breathing and heart rate slow. A feeling of calmness enveloped me. I began to hear a faint ringing sound — almost like a pleasurable version of tininitus.
Again, this is not a cure-all. It’s certainly not a substitute for combining all the habits I listed above, or for professional help. But if you’ve got anxiety, and you’ve got eight minutes, you might find it really interesting.
The track is embedded below, and you can find it pretty much every other place you’d download music, too.
It worked for me. I’d love to hear if it works for you, too.