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A Natural Way to Reduce Anxiety: Binaural Acoustics

 

Natural Way to Reduce Anxiety

By: Erin Stair, MD, MPH

A natural way to reduce stress and anxiety is to listen to binaural acoustics. They are my go-to when I feel anxious or am having difficulty falling or staying asleep. I also use them when I have premenstrual cramps, since binaural acoustics at specific frequencies have been shown to be helpful for pain. The thing I love MOST about binaural acoustics is that they require little to no effort. I don’t have to read anything, I don’t have to engage anything. I can just put on my headphones and listen. I love them so much that I started creating my own arrangements, and I even create customized ones for the folks I work with one-on-one.

Before I mention the studies showing that binaural acoustics, like our ZENTones ,can significantly reduce stress, daytime anxiety and nightime anxiety, I want to explain what a binaural beat is.

Binaural beats are normally occurring sounds that are created when two different and pure tones are simultaneously presented to each ear. Binaural beats were first discovered by Heinrich Dove in 1839 and described in his book Repertorium der Physik. Years later, Dove’s work was supplemented by that of Dr. Gerald Oster who thought binaural beats were a great neurological research tool that could be helpful for diagnosing a variety of neurological disorders. Oster’s work was published in Scientific American in 1973 in an article called, “Auditory Beats in the Brain.” In that article, he talked about how one’s ability to detect binaural beats could be impacted by hormonal fluctuations or even disease states, such as Parkinsons.

Auditory stimulation via binaural beats is considered noninvasive and safe. It’s a natural way to reduce anxiety. However, more research is needed in this area, especially for specifying the most beneficial protocols, so it is always best for anyone considering using binaural beats to first have a discussion with his or her physician. In order to detect binaural beats, an individual needs to wear headphones to hear two PURE tones with different frequencies. Pure tones rarely happen in nature, which is why binaural beats are produced mechanically. The two tones heard together will form an integrated auditory signal that has a frequency equal to the difference in frequency between the tones. For example, if 120 Hz are played in the left ear and 125 Hz are played in the right ear, the perceived frequency of the signal will be 5 Hz. This composite sound is called a binaural beat. The brain will perceive the binaural beat even though the beat does not exist in physical space. How cool is that?!?  For this reason, binaural beats are sometimes called “phantom beats.”

That said, and something we take into account with ZENTones, is that the sequence in which the sounds are presented seems to matter. Recently, several scientists conducting studies involving auditory stimulation and binaural beats have suggested that in-phase stimulation is the most effective method of delivery. In-phase stimulation consists of synchronizing the external auditory stimuli with the brain: in order to be most effective, the auditory stimulation should create an external frequency that is the same as the brain’s current internal rhythm. In metaphorical terms, in-phase stimulation is like pushing a swing in the direction it is already going rather than pushing it in the opposite direction.

Theoretically, the binaural beats will entrain an individual’s brain to an external rhythm. “Brainwave entrainment” is defined as changing the brain’s current frequency to a desired frequency via external auditory stimulation with beats played at the desired frequency. However, that is just a theory, and the exact mechanism for how binaural beats are effective remains mysterious. Most people agree that the composit beat is formed by the superior olivary nucleus in the brain center. The brain has five key brainwaves. Delta brainwaves have the slowest frequency ( 1-4 Hz) and dominate during sleep. Theta brainwaves have a frequency of 4-8 Hz and are associated with decelerating brain activity and enhanced creativity. Alpha brainwaves have a frequency of 8-13 Hz and are associated with relaxed wakefulness. Beta waves with a frequency of 16-24 Hz are associated with alertness, concentration, attention, and memory. Gamma waves have a frequency of 25-100 Hz and are associated with states of heightened meaning and sensitivity. ( Some people use Gamma waves for “out of body” experiences. Who knows?)

I have created and used my own binaural arrangements for years. I’m very sensitive to sounds, even sounds some folks would consider “sound therapy”, and went on a search for something that was appealing, safe and easy. I also wanted to make sure the sounds were scientifically-crafted, so I knew what I was getting, or listening to. Another great thing about binaural sound arrangements is that they work equally well for the old as they do for the young. The hearing loss that accompanies old age doesn’t significantly affect one’s ability to detect binaural beats. That, alone, opens the door for a wide array of therapeutic uses in the older population. For example, it’s shown that older people who take prescription medication for sleep are at a higher risk of falling due to the side effects. Imagine if they tried listening to binaural acoustics instead? They have no long-term side effects and certainly don’t increase one’s risk of falls.

The idea of binaural beats has been around a long time, and there are several studies showing that they can be helpful for a person’s wellbeing and produce a desired mental state. There are also studies showing that they don’t work better than placebo, and I think a lot of this discrepancy has to do with the way the tone are arranged, what frequencies are used and how long someone listens to them. It’s hard to find specific answers for these questions, because binaural beats don’t get a lot of funding for research. However, from what I’ve read and what I’ve experienced, one should at least listen for 20 minutes at a time.

Anxiety is a huge issue in our society, whether it’s officially diagnosed or not. No matter the extent, we all have anxious moments that can derail us and make us less productive. Because of this, and because folks are worried about side effects from medications, people are looking for natural ways to reduce anxiety. I’m most excited about the studies showing that binaural arrangements are helpful for anxiety, because they show that they are helpful for events known to produce extremely high states of anxiety, such as waiting for surgery. My thinking is that if they help in those very high states of anxiety, they’d probably be effective for lower states too. Furthermore, they are “easy” to implement. All a person has to do is listen! As someone who consults on digital health Apps, including ones for anxiety, I can tell you that the biggest issue we run into is lack of adherence. A person who has a lot of anxiety, whether a child or adult, often has a dampened ability to concentrate or stick with a program that requires a lot of effort. Binaural beats only require you to put on headphones and listen. I can’t emphasize how important that is.

I’m going to discuss a few studies in which binaural arrangements were effective for anxiety and point out things that I think are important.

A randomized controlled trial tested the effectiveness of  music with binaural beats, music without them and a control measure in a group of people about to undergo eye surgery. The researchers measured anxiety subjectively ( with a verified survey) but also measured physiological responses, including high blood pressure and increased heart beat. So we’re clear, the physiological measures make the study stronger. Results showed that both the music with and without binaural beats decreased subjective feelings of anxiety and blood pressure. However, the music with binaural beats showed a significant decrease in heart rate compared to the music without. A randomized controlled trial was also conducted on patients undergoing bronchoscopies. Patients who listened to binaural arrangements had signficantly less anxiety than those who listened to music without binaural beats. The binaural arrangement group also had lower blood pressure readings. Another randomized controlled showed that listening to binaural beats significantly reduced anxiety associated with same-day surgeries when compared to sounds without binaural beats.

A really interesting study worth mentioning is one involving kids who were about to undergo surgery. While not specifically anxiety, the study showed that listening to binaural arrangements significantly reduced the amount of sedation medication they needed. Why is this important? Because sedation medication in kids has been linked to neuroapoptosis, essentially the destruction of neurons.

Another incredibly high-anxiety state? Cesarean sections. A randomized controlled trial was conducted on women undergoing elective cesarean sections. Some women listened to a binaural arrangement and others listened to music without binaural beats. The women who listened to the binaural arrangement had significantly less anxiety.

This study is worth mentioning, because if you’re like me, you exercise to help reduce stress and boost your mood. I started listening to our Stress Relief ZENTones after exercising once I read this study and ones like it. The study shows that if you listen to binaural arrangements with theta frequencies after you exercise, it significantly boosts the response of the parasympathetic nervous system. That means that it enhances your body’s relaxation response and helps calm down amped-up nerves. What do I do? When I’m finished doing cardio or a resistance workout, I lie down on the floor or grass, put on my ZENBand, cover my eyes, and listen to our theta frequencies. I listen with the ZENBand because there is some evidence to suggest that the benefits of binaural beats are enhanced in the dark, and I can cover my eyes with the ZENBand to help keep out ambient light.

In conclusion, I highly recommend trying binaural arrangements as a natural way to reduce anxiety or stress. If you have any questions about safety, protocols, what frequencies are best for what, or if you want a customized session, please write me. I’m busy, but I’ll write back. 🙂 Not only do I create individual customized programs, but I keep up-to-date on the latest research. And it’s fascinating!!! While this blog focusses on binaural arrangements for anxiety, I plan on covering sleep and chronic pain in the near future…and even some crazier stuff. 😉 If you’re interested, I already wrote a blog on how binaural beats at a certain frequency can improve memory. Students love that one.

If you want to try ZENTones, please do. If you order them, they instantly arrive in your email. I will also send a follow-up email with access to our web-based App. Again, you can listen to them with your own headphones, but if your ears or head start to hurt after a while from the hardness of headphones/earbuds, you can try a ZENBand, which uses soft pillow cushions as speakers. Please note that the ZENBands are mostly designed for women, but I am working on larger sizes for men and smaller sizes for kids. That said, you can stretch or fold them to make them fit. AND…when you visit my ZENBand page, you’ll get to read my spiel on why you should minimize your use of wireless headphones and stick with wired, especially if you plan on listening to things for long durations of time.

Thanks for reading, guys. I hope you found this informative. Also, don’t forget to check out my health podcast, Causes or Cures! And if you ever have any recommendations for guests or topics, just shoot me a message.

And if you are so inclined, here is my Instagram and here is my Facebook.

Warmly,

Erin xo

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