Susannah Taylor: A sound way to beat anxiety

If my husband and I ever have time to lie in bed in the mornings (about once every blue moon before our four-year-old demands breakfast), we’ve started opening our bedroom window to listen to the birds who appear to be stirring from their winter slumber. We even entered proper bird nerd-dom by googling which tweet belonged to which bird (british-birdsongs.uk has an audio for every birdsong you can think of). I know, it’s hardly rock ’n’ roll, but I can highly recommend tuning into sounds of nature to soothe the soul.

Image: David Venni. Styling: Sairey Stemp

On the Calm app, which is one of the best out there for helping with anxiety, it’s the nature sounds or ‘soundscapes’ such as rain on leaves, waves on a shore or the crackling fire that I find are like a balm to my often overstimulated mind. While sound therapy is nothing new, there is increasing research into its wellbeing benefits.

Calm’s Daily Move instructor Mel Mah says, ‘By listening to music, electrical activity in the right hemisphere of our brain is subconsciously synchronised.’ This can affect our whole body, adds Mel. ‘Listening to peaceful music and sounds can soothe stress, induce relaxation and slow heart rates. All of this reduces the body’s levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.’

One app literally making (sound) waves is Sona: Music As Medicine. It uses Grammy award-winning artists to craft restorative music that is backed by scientists to reduce anxiety levels. On the app you can choose how you are feeling – worried, stressed, anxious – and it will pick music to suit your mood. At the same time, there is a bubble on the screen that expands to indicate an in-breath and deflates as you let your breath go. Each track is a journey of different beats and dreamy sounds.

It’s no surprise that music has the power to change the way we feel. Music is based on rhythm and harmony – and so is human life. We inhale and exhale continuously, our hearts beat between 60 and 100 times a minute, our days are governed by circadian rhythms. It’s little wonder then that music app Spotify says its users have created over 402,000 self-care, mindfulness and health and wellness playlists to date.

One type of music that’s becoming increasingly popular for its wellbeing benefits is binaural beats. This is an auditory phenomenon created by our brains when we hear two tones at different frequencies, one in each ear: the brain then creates an illusory third tone.

While research is relatively new, some small studies have shown that when binaural beats are listened to, over time they can help enhance mood. It’s also believed that different sound frequencies can correspond to different brainwaves and mental states. For example, studies at the National Library of Medicine have shown that people listening to binaural beats at frequencies of 40Hz experienced better mood, memory and cognition, while binaural beats at 6Hz helped induce a more meditative state.

I’ve been listening to various binaural beat playlists on Spotify (it’s crucial you wear headphones in order to hear the frequencies in each ear) and, to be honest, it doesn’t sound any different to any other New Age music soundtrack – slightly woo-woo, ambient, some rainfall and a few waves thrown in. However, when I left the Stress Relief playlist on while working, I started nodding off. I’m blaming the binaural beat for missing my deadline this week.

Stick on positivity

The aromatherapy scents from Australian brand Subtle Energies are extraordinarily beautiful. I have the Aura Protection Inhalation Patches stuck to my wrists which release potent aromatic oils (a comforting waft of saffron, rhu khus and tulasi) throughout the day, said to increase focus and cleanse negative energy. 45 for ten patches, subtleenergies.com.au

Self-help, no jargon

All too often, mental-health help books are written by very clever psychologists in a ‘therapy language’ we don’t understand. TikTok sensation Dr Julie Smith’s Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before* is an exception. Relatable, real and easy to digest, it covers everything from understanding low mood to emotional pain, self-doubt and anxiety as if your wise best friend is chatting to you. An essential mental-health bible for adults and teenagers.

Published by Penguin Books LTD, £14.99. To order a copy for £12.74 until 10 April, go to  books.mailshop.co.uk. Free UK delivery on orders over £20.

READ MORE: Do you have post-pandemic stress?