Music for Calming the Autonomic Nervous System

Music for Calming the Autonomic Nervous System

Steve Rees

We have wonderfully designed bodies! We find many integrated systems that are functioning within our bodies. It is easy to see how amazing it is that we can walk in health and wellness; even thriving and not just surviving. One of these systems is what is called the Autonomic Nervous System that is a combination of our brain, nerve matrix, and neurotransmitters that control most of our body functions. The Autonomic Nervous System is then generally broken down into the Sympathetic and the Parasympathetic influences.

The Sympathetic is the aspect that excites our body functions. Many times, this is referred to as the "Flight or Fight" reaction. This system is what causes our heart and respiratory rate to increase. It gives us that shot of adrenaline that causes our muscles to be able to strengthen and respond quickly. It is also what is ruling our response to stressors in our life. If we are under frequent stress, the Sympathetic aspect of the Autonomic Nervous System is in the upper hand of control. Stressors include a lousy job situation, stressful living conditions, health conditions or any other stress-inducing situations

When we need this shot of adrenaline to help us get out of dangerous situations, this Sympathetic control is a survival mechanism and acts as a benefit to our bodies. But if this stress is long term, it can have some bad results. A recent article in the American Psychology Association online journal highlighted some of these adverse effects of prolonged stress on our bodies.

They are as follows:

Musculoskeletal system

Prolonged muscle tension can lead to migraines and headaches; lower back and lower extremity pain; other areas of chronic pain. Lesser use of painful muscle groups can also lead to muscle atrophy. Millions of people suffer from chronic painful conditions.

Respiratory system

Stress causes the smooth muscle of the respiratory system to contract, which can bring on breathing problems like asthma or exacerbate issues that already exist, such as COPD. Sometimes it can even trigger panic attacks.

Cardiovascular system

Prolonged stress can cause many problems here. High blood pressure, rapid or irregular heart rhythm, increased cholesterol build-up, blocked arteries leading to myocardial infarction or heart attack, and even strokes and other vascular complications.

Endocrine system

Normal stress causes the release of steroid hormones such as cortisol that helps the body release extra glucose for more energy. In prolonged stress, this becomes problematic and manifests in numerous physical and mental health conditions, including chronic fatigue, metabolic disorders (e.g., diabetes, obesity), depression, and immune disorders.

Gastrointestinal system

Stress has many effects on the stomach and intestine. In the flight or fight scenario, the blood is shunted away from these organs to supply the muscles. This shunting causes the stomach and intestine to slow down, which is fine for a short burst. If this motion, or peristalsis as it is termed, stays slow for too long, then some real problems can occur. Bloating, cramps, poor digestion, spasms, pain, constipation or diarrhea, nausea, or indigestion are examples of some of these problems. The intestinal flora can even be affected, and that can also contribute to many of these problems.

Nervous system -

Chronic stress can result in a long-term drain on the body. As the Autonomic Nervous System continues to trigger physical reactions, it causes the body to become fatigued. This fatigue causes a cascade of other problems in the various body systems that we have been listing here. The Autonomic Nervous System is designed to be like a teeter-totter with each part balancing the other and sharing in the dominance. When too much time is spent under the Sympathetic control, then the whole system becomes unbalanced.

Reproductive system

Both male and female systems are impacted by prolonged stress. In males, there can be a decrease in libido from the extra cortisol levels as well as erectile dysfunction and possibly even infertility. With females under prolonged stress, there can be irregular menstruation, painful cramps, and even prolonged menstruation. There can also be an impact on libido and even fertility.

In considering these adverse effects on our health and wellbeing produced from prolonged stress, we should want to eliminate as many of the sources as possible. While it may not be possible to control all the adverse conditions of our daily lives, we may be able to control our time away from the stress at least. We can do this by assisting our parasympathetic function in taking control. We can help bring our heart rate down and assist our muscles in relaxing better, facilitating that teeter-totter into swinging back toward the parasympathetic to regain the balance in our lives.

When we want to relax or get some meaningful sleep, we want the parasympathetic to gain the upper hand of control over our body functions. We want to get the stress levels to diminish and let our excited state slow down and rest. The problem frequently becomes, getting from the Sympathetic dominance over to the Parasympathetic dominance. If we have had a bad day at the office, and our heart rate and breathing are elevated, and epinephrine and cortisol are circulating throughout our body, how do we calm ourselves and allow ourselves to relax and get some rest?

A study titled, "Effects of different "relaxing" music styles on the autonomic nervous system" by Perez-Lloret S, Diez J, Domé MN, Delvenne AA, Braidot N, Cardinali DP, Vigo DE – found that "new age" music induced a shift in HRV from higher to lower frequencies….. The objective of this study was to assess the effects on heart rate variability (HRV) of exposure to different styles of "relaxing" music. Autonomic responses to musical stimuli were correlated with subjective preferences regarding the relaxing properties of each music style. The "new age" music was characterized by a slow rhythm and soft harmonic tones. I believe that the calming harp music that I produce would qualify for this category.

As a Registered Nurse, I used to bring my harp into the hemodialysis treatments I was performing and play for my patients. I discovered that as I played, their heart rates would come down. Many of them would also go to sleep. I had always thought that the calming harp music must account for this reduction in heart rate, but now this study gives us a scientific reason for this effect. The calming harp music is activating the Parasympathetic side of the Autonomic Nervous System.

I have had many people comment under some of my YouTube videos

Many tell me that they can sleep now that they played this music when they had insomnia before. Others tell me that they use it to relax. The videos with the scenic pictures along with the music have seen a large number of viewers with many thanking me for providing it.  They tell me how effective it has been to help them in meditation, prayers, relaxing, and sleeping.

While I cannot guarantee that the Calming Harp music will cure all your ills, I can encourage you to try some the next time you are struggling to get to sleep. Check and see if it might not help. What do you have to lose? I even provide it free on YouTube so that it won't cost you anything. As they say, "Try it, you might like it!