World’s Most Relaxing Song May Reduce Anxiety by 65%

by Liz Neporent
October 5, 2023 at 2:05 PM UTC

Scientific and clinical aspects of "Weightless," a song designed to reduce stress, while also examining skepticism about its universal effectiveness.

Clinical Relevance: Music may effectively help manage anxiety

  • A collaboration between researchers and the musical group Marconi Union created Weightless, touted as the world’s most relaxing sing.
  • However, there is some skepticism regarding the song’s universal applicability because individual musical preferences likely influence stress relief.
  • Additional studies suggest that the composition could be as effective as some anxiety therapies, but more research is needed for definitive conclusions.

When a researcher and a musical group teamed up with sound therapists from the British Academy of Sound Therapy, they claimed to compose a song that is scientifically proven to alleviate stress and anxiety. The track Weightless, by the band Marconi Union, has been dubbed, “the world’s most relaxing song.”

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A Scientific Marvel?

Mindlab International, specialists in neuroscience and consumer behavior, assembled a group of 40 participants, asking them to solve challenging puzzles, while monitoring their physiological responses as they listened to 10 different songs. Weightless outperformed all other tested songs, reducing stress and anxiety levels by an impressive 65 percent.

Its tranquilizing effect extended to key physiological markers as well. Listeners experienced slower heart rate, lower blood pressure, and reduced breathing rates. 

Based on these findings, Lyz Cooper, founder of the British Academy of Sound Therapy, commented at the time of the 2019 trial, “”By combining these elements in the way Marconi Union have, has created the perfect relaxing song.”

Interesting theory, Kathleen Howland, a professor of music at Berklee College of Music, told Psychiatrist.com. But likely inaccurate. 

“Musical references are finely tuned, inherent to both education and experience,” she said. “So you can’t have just one piece of music that suits everybody.”

Music needs to speak to the individual listener to have an effect, Howland pointed out. Personal preference, culture, and environment all contribute to how the notes hit a person’s ear. For example, though millions of people enjoy the musical stylings of saxophone player, Kenny G, she herself is not a fan. She doesn’t exactly appreciate the songs her husband wrote with an ex-girlfriend either. 

Why It Works

The band did lean into the science when writing Weightless. They carefully calibrated their arrangements to trigger deep relaxation. 

The song starts with a tempo of 60 beats per minute (BPM), mirroring the average resting heart rate of an adult. Over its duration, the speed gradually moves to 50 BPM, a deliberate choice to guide the listener’s heart rate into a slower, more mellow state.

Compositionally, the tune also employs a technique known as “entrainment”, which aligns the brainwaves of the listener with the song’s frequencies. This alignment, along with the tempo, encourages heart rate to sync with the music, further facilitating a state of calm. A tapestry of low frequencies, slow tempo, and soft, soothing sounds form the song’s base. Pianos, guitars, and chimes intermingle with chants to create a melody that is both ethereal and grounding. The researchers believe careful use of these concepts activate the brain’s reward system, releasing dopamine and inducing a sense of well-being.

The song incorporates an environmental aspect as well. Samples of natural sounds like trickling water and bird calls aim to trigger a biophilic response, an innate human attraction to living things and a sense of oneness with nature.

Skepticism about the song’s universal appeal aside, Howland agreed that these are all elements you would look for in any soothing piece of music.

“Sedative music is always going to have a slower tempo. It’s not going to have large leaps compositionally. It’s not going to have any surprises. The music should have good predictability but not be boring. We want people to essentially be held, contained, and supported in the predictability of the music no matter what the instrumentations are,” she explained.

Weighing the Therapeutic Evidence

The clinical potential of “Weightless” invites a comparison with other, more conventional methods of anxiety reduction, such as medication, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and physical therapies like massage or meditation. 

A recent study at the University of Pennsylvania laid the groundwork for such a comparison by assessing the efficacy of Weightless against the widely prescribed sedative, midazolam. Researchers found both interventions equally effective in lowering anxiety in pre-operative patients, but Weightless had the distinct advantage of being devoid of any adverse effects or complications. 

Another piece of research out of the University of Nevada, Reno, contrasted the sleep quality effects of the song with a placebo song. The results indicated a significant improvement in sleep metrics among those who listened to Weightless

Both investigations were relatively small. And in the Penn study, the researchers noted that the group who received the sedative reported feeling more satisfied with the results. And doctors complained that the music interfered with their conversations with patients. So the bottom line: researchers need a lot more data before declaring the song on par with standard forms of anxiety therapy.

The Power of Music Therapy

Still, all of these findings suggest that the soothing strains of a well-composed tune could help with anxiety with few negative reactions. Howland wholeheartedly agreed. She  said that music can indeed be a very powerful way to reduce stress and tamp down anxiety. She herself uses musical therapy to help soothe the nerves of people before surgery, as they go through chemotherapy, and in hospice. 

“When we’re anxious, our executive functioning is really compromised and music can help to tame that very powerful circuitry in the brain. We can see the way that we can provide the right sensory input, to shift brain functioning from the stress response into the relaxation response,” she explained. 

Listen to the song and judge for yourself. But the researchers caution against listening to the track while driving or in any situation where drowsiness might be dangerous.

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