The research is in. Stress and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) do NOT mix. Can listening to your favorite jam help?
We all know that stress can makes things worse. A 2013 study published in the journal Arthritis Care and Research even found that among 1,522 U.S. veterans that had RA, those with RA and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had worse patient-reported outcomes. But, it is not only traumatic stress that influences rheumatoid arthritis. Daily worries can become an issue as well.
People “who have a tendency to worry reported increased [RA] disease activity, more swollen joints, and more pain,” according to a 2013 study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. And, daily stressors in one month predicted increased feelings of fatigue in the next. The negative power of worry can be difficult to overcome.
Looking to get a better handle on the research, de Brouwer, S, et al, published a meta-analysis in 2010 in Arthritis Research & Therapy. A meta-analysis looks at a large number of clinical studies that are sufficiently rigorous together, leveraging some advanced statistics, to get a clearer picture of potential contributing factor. These researchers found 18 studies that met their threshold. They concluded that there is evidence that immune function is altered by stress and that real-life stressors may contribute the the symptoms that you feel.
Okay. Stress is bad. Let’s get to the music
A study of 56 college-aged people found that listening to classical music or self-selected music after being exposed to a stressful scenario will have lower levels of anxiety and increased levels of well-being (as compared to sitting in silence or listening to heavy metal music). This study, published in 2007 by Labbé, et. al, also found that listening to heavy metal music was associated with high levels of anxiety following a stressful situation. The authors concluded that listening to your favorite music after a stressor significantly reduces negative emotional states and physiological arousal. Taken with the research from above on RA, it is possible that music could help minimize the impact of stress.
Meta-analysis: music and decreasing stress
In 2004, Pelletier, C. reviewed and analyzed 22 quantitative studies where music was used to decrease physiological arousal due to stress. She concluded that music, all by itself, AND music assisted relaxation techniques both significantly decreased physiological responses to stress.
Interestingly, the amount of response was not standard for every person. There were significant differences when considering age, the type of stressor experienced, musical preferences, and previous music experience. This suggests that certain types of music are not only better for certain people, but also that certain types of music may be better suited to help combat particular stresses. This study was published in the Journal of Music Therapy.
“Music is my world!” — More right than we know?
Up until now, we have looked at music as if it were a bandaid, applied after the fact to deal with stressful situations. But can music impact your perceptions of the world around you? We won’t dive into the ins and outs of individual perception, but, if you are interested in the topic, the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel-prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman may be for you!
A 2013 study by Yamasaki, T., et. al, published in the journal Psychology of Music examined the possibility that music could serve as a prism through which we view the world. In the study, participants were asked to rate four different environments using a scale of adjectives. The environments were:
- a quiet residential area
- traveling by train in the suburbs
- at a busy crossroads; AND
- in a tranquil park area
While rating these environments, participants listened to a variety of music (which was rated on how active and “energetic” it seemed to be) or silence.
Fascinatingly, the researchers found that people’s evaluations of the environment were changed by the music in the direction of the music’s energy. For example:
- Listening to highly active music increased the activation rating of environments that were perceived as low energy without music, AND
- Listening to low activity music decreased the activation rating of environments perceived as high energy without music.
So, listening to calm music in busy circumstances, like crowded intersections, helped people view the world around them as less chaotic.
The other interesting finding was that listening to highly positive music improved the way people described the environments around them. Happy music does seem to truly lead to happy days ????
Well, after all that, we had to leave you with some tunes!
Here is a Spotify playlist of some great relaxing songs (that work for me!). But, as the research shows, it is best to find the songs and style that work for you in your particular moment. Happy listening!