Sound Therapy for Stress:
Ever feel stressed out? I do. A natural way to reduce stress is to listen to binaural beats ( binaural acoustics) that are arrranged in a specific sequence. They are my go-to when I feel overly stressed and can’t work, focus or sleep. I also use them when I have premenstrual cramps, since binaural beats at specific frequencies have been shown to be helpful for pain. Sometimes I feel extra stressed when I’m reminded of an extremely traumatic experience in my past. What do I do? Listen to binaural beats. 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, which is nice, because sometimes when I’m really anxious, I don’t have the energy to focus or concentrate on anything. I love them so much that I started creating my own binaural arrangements.
What is a binaural beat?
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 stress. However, more research is needed in this area, especially for specifying the most beneficial protocols. 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 I take into account with ZENTones, is that the sequence in which the sounds are presented seems to matter. Scientists conducted 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.
How exactly do binaural beats work as sound therapy for stress?
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. Some experts believe in a more generalized approach: binaural beats help turn on the parasympathetic nervous system which then stimulates the relaxation response.
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 and use them when I’m stressed. I’m very sensitive to sounds (spectrum problems), even sounds some folks would consider “sound therapy”, so I searched 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 and 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 tones 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. The evidence base isn’t…robust. I just want to make sure I’m honest with you guys.
Stress and anxiety are huge issues in our society. No matter the extent, we all have stressful 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 stress. 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.
Where are the studies on using binaural beats as sound therapy for stress?
I’m going to discuss a few studies in which binaural arrangements were effective for anxiety, studies on binaural beats for stress, and point out things that I think are important. Keep in mind that a lot more work needs to be done to properly assess their overall benefit.
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 listen to the Stress Relief ZENTones after exercising. 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, grass, whatever…, put on my ZENBand, cover my eyes, and listen to the Stress Relief ZENTones. 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.
Your Take-Away on sound therapy for stress:
In conclusion, I highly recommend trying binaural beats for 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 this stuff excites me so you’ll hear back from me! 🙂 Not only do I create individual customized programs, but I keep up-to-date on the latest research. It’s cool! While this blog focusses on binaural arrangements for stress, I plan on covering sleep and stress-induced 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, as sound therapy for stress, 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.
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. (I KNOW some of the guests are controversial, but sending me “murder threats” for the face mask podcast was not cool!)
If you are interested in a short, funny read, I would love for you guys to read Yours in Wellness, Krystal Heeling.
Or…if you like darker, faster-paced and true stories, check out Manic Kingdom. 🙂