Handling stress is tough. With all the anxieties of modern life, we can turn to a number of different coping methods to deal with it, but here's one you might not have thought of: music.

Sound therapy is a form of holistic healing, and its popularity is rising, reports the New York Times. Music can benefit the well-being of our bodies and minds, helping the body heal from mental stress and even physical pain. Studies have revealed that the use of sound and music can be an effective tool for quieting the outside noise that impedes the mind's work.

Aside from its potency in the psychological sphere, sound therapy has been shown to have positive effects in the physiological domain as well. Various studies have shown that the use of low-frequency sounds can lessen the pain and anxiety associated with fibromyalgia, and the use of nature-based sounds can lessen the anxieties that arise when artery bypass graft patients are weaned off mechanical ventilation.

Music and the mind

A man works in a library while listening to music Music that creates an environment of deep calm and contemplation can help people study and work. (Photo: vectorfusionart/Shutterstock)

We asked noted psychologist David Lewis about the power of sound therapy, and he used a quote from English playwright William Congreve's "The Mourning Bride" to explain: "'Music,'" said William Congreve 'hath charms to soothe the savage breast,' and this is certainly true in a therapeutic environment where it can be powerful, in some cases essential, adjunct to whatever other type of therapy one is trying to perform."

At the British Academy of Sound Therapy, sound therapists use a variety of instruments to create states of relaxation, meditation and contemplation. These instruments, which are played live for the clients, include tonal ones like gongs, tuning forks and crystal singing bowls. Rhythmic instruments such as shakers, frame drums, rain sticks and chimes are also used. Even the human voice is added to the process. The vocals blend with the tonal instruments, creating tones similar to the ones produced by the instruments. These sounds create a space for reflective thought and relaxation.

The most relaxing songs

A team of scientists, including Lewis and Lyz Cooper, founder of the British Academy of Sound Therapy, worked together to understand which songs worked best to generate relaxing effects, reports Inc. For one song, the researchers teamed up with Manchester band Marconi Union to compose the track "Weightless." Out of all the songs used in the study, "Weightless" imbued the highest level of relaxation in the subjects studied. Marconi Union used their talents to generate a world of soothing ambiance — making use of warm electronically sampled nature sounds, guitar, and piano — constructing an environment of deep calm and contemplation.

During the study, a group of 40 participants were asked to solve a number of puzzles in a timed setting. The puzzles, coupled with the time limitations, were designed to generate a certain amount of stress. The participants listened to various songs when attempting to solve the puzzles. They were connected to sensors that measured brain activity and physiological states. When listening to "Weightless," participants experienced a 65 percent reduction in anxiety, and a 35 percent reduction in typical physiological resting states such as heart rate, blood pressureand breathing rates.

Different sounds for different people

Even though "Weightless" proved most effective in this particular study, it’s important to remember that "what relaxes one client may relax another hardly at all," Lewis told MNN. "I once treated a young man who was able to relax both mentally and physically into a very deep state whilst listening to heavy metal." It may seem like an odd choice as a means for relaxation, but according to Lewis, "one needs to match the music choice to the client's experiences and personality."

Sound therapy is fascinating. It has the "power to reach parts of the brain which words alone cannot reach," Lewis says. Everything from distorted and shredding guitars, to the deep drones of gongs can be used to induce meditative states. It reveals the universal appeal of music and its capacity to heal both mind and body.

There's no one genre of music or one song that is the be-all and end-all of sound therapy, but here's a list of the rest of the songs used in the study that proved most effective for relaxation:

1. "Electra" by Airstream

2. "Mellomaniac (Chill Out Mix)" by DJ Shah

3. "Watermark" by Enya

4. "Strawberry Swing" by Coldplay

5. "Please Don't Go" by Barcelona

6. "Pure Shores" by All Saints

7. "Someone Like You" by Adele

8. "Canzonetta Sull'aria" - Mozart

9. "We Can Fly (Café Del Mar)" by Rue du Soleil