How Music Therapy Can Relieve High School Stress, Anxiety and Other Mental Health Issues

By Lindsey Chao (Positive Psychology)

My Goal

In my community and at my school, I noticed that there were many high school students who were overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, depressed, and overall mentally exhausted and unstable. Through a combination of rigorous academic classes, time-consuming extracurriculars, college admissions, and the importance of having a social life, students have difficulty managing their time, while also maintaining a healthy mental state and overall happiness. My school, in particular, is highly competitive and has a big emphasis on preparation for college and the admissions process. The environment at school has become so unhealthy for students’ brains and mental health, that the majority of the student population is feeling constantly stressed, anxious, and some of the time, depressed and suicidal. This is a prevalent issue in my community that is worsening and being overlooked and unaddressed by people, especially those who have the power to make a change. My goal for this project was to find a solution to help alleviate the stress and anxiety that exists among the majority of high school students at my school. To address the mental health problems high schoolers in my community face every day, I am proposing to implement music therapy into more students’ lives.

Everyone I know has an internal love for music in at least some way. Whether it’s from listening to music or playlists they love or create, going to concerts or music festivals, or hearing the background music in a coffee shop or gym, music is a part of my community that connects and unites people. If music is making such a positive influence on people’s lives outside of school, then it seems realistic to apply that influence into an academic setting.

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is a practice that improves one’s physical emotional, cognitive and social needs through music interventions that accomplish the goals set for that individual. Many people who use music therapy work with a music therapist, who helps prove treatments for the individual that include, singing, moving to, and listening to music. They use all facets of music to improve, restore or maintain health, and utilize musical experiences and the relationships that form through them to generate positive change.

5 Main Factors that Contribute to the Effects of Music Therapy

  1. Modulation of Attention → Music catches our attention and distracts us from negative stimuli (e.g. worry, pain, anxiety, etc.)
  2. Modulation of Emotion → Music regulates the activity of brain regions that relate to the initiation, generation, maintenance, termination, and modulation of emotions
  3. Modulation of Cognition → Music is related to memory processes that encode, store, and decode the information from musical experiences, and also involves analyzing musical syntax and meaning
  4. Modulation of Behavior → Music evokes conditions and behaviors that include walking, speaking, grasping information, etc.
  5. Modulation of Communication → Music is a means of communication that plays a huge role in relationships

Overall Benefits of Using Music Therapy

  • Increases one’s motivation for engaging in the treatment
  • Overall physical rehabilitation and facilitating movement
  • Emotional support for the clients and their families
  • Provides an outlet for an individual to express their feelings
  • Opens up new avenues of communication that helps them express themselves if they have difficulty showing it through words
  • A 2018 USA Today article entitled “Whether it’s Art and Music Therapy or Art and Music as Therapy, It Calms Traumatized Teens” stated confidently that “Studies have shown that participating in music and art can alleviate pain, help people manage stress, promote wellness, enhance memory, improve communications, aide physical rehabilitation, and give people a way to express their feelings.”

How Music Therapy Helps Those with Stress and Anxiety Related Illnesses

  1. Provides a stimulus for relaxation
    • A variety of studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of music and/or music therapy techniques in inducing a relaxation response, both physiologically and psychologically. For instance, playing background music can reduce stress responses and help induce relaxation under stress. In the past, music has also been successfully combined with biofeedback techniques to reduce tension and facilitate relaxation responses.
  2. Provides a reinforcing stimulus for relaxation
    • Music elicits responses compatible with relaxation behaviors, more so than other modes of reinforcement. For instance, verbal stimuli can actually distract from relaxation training; however, music, being process from mostly non-verbal areas of the brain, can be more effective and more likely to produce the desired response. Also, music is an auditory stimulus, which is a type of stimulus that pervades every community. Individuals can also learn to actively benefit from having pleasurable musical experiences for their own reinforcement. By cognitively engaging in music, individuals can create their own distraction and/or relaxation reinforcement during stressful feelings or events. At school, students can listen to relaxing and stress-reducing music in order to distract themselves from the hectic environment school creates.
  3. Promotes recognition of one’s responses to stress in order to enhance physiological processes of relaxation
    • Music therapy techniques can be effectively employed to educate the individual regarding his or her own bodily responses to stress. When someone acquires the skill to better one’s own responses to stress, they can ultimately enhance their ability to relax more frequently. By bridging the gap between conscious and normally unconscious activities of the body through music therapy, individuals can develop a new understanding and increasing sense of control over their internal states and become more self-aware
    • Most researchers also agree on the importance of one’s preference and likeness toward music and its effectiveness in relaxation processes. While individual physiological responses to musical stimuli are varied, musical stimuli perceived by the individual as pleasant and relaxing may best enhance the physiological and psychological processes of relaxation.
  4. Helps one identify and express their feeling associated with stress
    • Music therapy can be effective in helping the individual to learn to recognize feelings and behaviors associated with stress and to express their emotions in more positive, appropriate ways. Stress and stress-related disorders are most times disruptive to normal functioning, so music therapy session work on heightening the individual’s awareness of the emotional toll stress creates for his or her life. When an individual successfully internalizes these feelings, musical experience, being both personal and internal, can provide an important cathartic release.
  5. Provides an alternative, more successful solution to deal with stress
    • While it is critically important for people dealing with stress-related disorders to strengthen or increase their ability to relax, it is just as important for them to learn alternate ways to deal with stress. Music therapy can be effective in this role. For instance, music therapy discussion groups are designed to encourage group members to talk to one another as well as to stimulate conversations that concern ways of improving stressful situations. Additionally, learning to play instruments while in music therapy further benefits the client with a skill that can serve as a solution to releasing tension and stress.

Quotes from High School Students on How Music Influences their Lives

“The app Headspace has the best sleeping music. I have trouble falling asleep and this really helps me calm down and fall asleep faster.”

Olivia Velten-Lomelin

“Before my [track] races I like listening to good music to calm my nerves.”

Ayinde Olukotun

“I listen to music while I’m in the car to calm myself down after a tiring, stressful day.”

Ethan Bernheim

“Sometimes I listen to sad music when I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed with school. It seems counterintuitive but it really helps me express and recognize my emotions and release everything that’s stressing me out or making me upset.”

Kennedy Cleage

How People Use Music Therapy Today

Music therapist Erin Seibert describes how the profession of music therapy deserves to be a household name in the world of healthcare.
Speech language and music therapist Kathleen Howland explains how music really does have the power to heal our brain and heart.

How I’m Going to Implement Music Therapy Into My Community

At school, I want to make a workshop at school that educates high school students on what music therapy is and how people can use it to help relieve stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues, as well as the benefits of positive psychology in concurrence with music therapy. I think making more students aware of this solution solving stress is really important because many students in my community do not know how to properly and healthily deal with mental issues surrounding the school and other extracurriculars that cause stress.

How I Use Music Therapy

Below are some Apps and Playlists I use to help relieve stress:

Thank You

Thank you so much for taking the time to read about my project. I had such a great time learning about music therapy and its effect on high school students and I hope you can integrate some of these strategies into your lives as well! If you want to learn more information on music therapy and its positive influence on people’s lives, feel free to reference the sources below or contact me at:

  • Email:
  • Instagram: @_lindseychao
  • Spotify username: @lc_dance

Works Cited

Students from my school (listed under each quote)

Dr. Tracy Bianchi (interviewee – my school’s guidance counselor)

2 TedX Talk Videos listed above

Share this project
  1. April 26, 2019 by Maya Stern

    This was super interesting to read. I definitely can relate to what Kennedy said about listening to sad music when I’m sad as a way to sort of acknowledge how I’m feeling and move past it. Music therapy is so important so thanks for writing this piece:)

    • April 26, 2019 by Lindsey Chao

      Hi Maya! Thank you so much for taking the time to read my project! Hopefully, you can utilize some of the strategies music therapy has to offer in order to cope with all types of feelings. Feel free to contact me if you have any further questions.

  2. April 28, 2019 by Angelina Josephine Kline

    Hey Lindsey, just wanted to say really good work, I have been looking forward to reading your piece for a while. In the past music has always felt therapeutic, but I hadn’t known about music therapy and its connection to positive psychology. I can relate to all the quotes you included, and myself use the app Calm, which is similar to headspace. I think the science behind it is so interesting. Good job!

    • April 29, 2019 by Lindsey Chao

      Thank you so much! I’m so glad you liked my presentation. I love using the Calm app for guided meditations and sleep stories. Music is very therapeutic and I’m glad you can relate to how other high schoolers in my community use music. Hopefully, you’ll be able to use some of these strategies in the future!

  3. April 29, 2019 by Allison Chao

    What a great article as I truly believe that music helps alleviate stress and can take me to a happier place when I’m feeling down or sad or anxious. I like to listen to music from the 80s and 90s as it brings back fun memories from those times of my life and can serve as a great form of escape from the worry or stress at that moment. Love the links to the apps and playlists (especially the Happy Playlist)! Thanks for sharing your presentation!

  4. April 29, 2019 by David Brambila

    This was a great article to read. Listening to music is something I always do whenever mi at the gym, at school or at home. Now from you article I am able to see why music is so important not just to me but a lot of people. I now know how music stimulates your brain in certain ways that are beneficial for high schooler’s to cope with mental health.

  5. May 04, 2019 by Georgia.Farmer

    Hi Lindsey,
    Your presentation is very interesting and relevant today! Your exploration into the main factors that contribute to music therapy made me think about how music affects us in a completely different way. I think your idea to create a music therapy workshop is innovative and can have real benefits, especially in a school/educational setting.

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