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Music, Reactions to Stress, & Lupus

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Stress and lupus do NOT mix. Can listening to your favorite jam help? Check out the research on the power of music.

We all know that stress can makes things worse. A prospective study published in 1994 by Da Costa, D., et. al, found that major life stressors in the previous six months (as defined by the research participants) were a significant predictor of reduced functional ability in 42 women with SLE. Functional ability was measured using the Stanford Health Assessments Questionnaire (HAQ).

It was only negative major life stress that decreased the level of functioning of people with lupus; positive life events and stressors didn’t improve functioning.

One potential explanation for the impact of negative life events on lupus comes from a 2005 study published in the journal Lupus by Kozorca,  E. , et. al. It examined coping mechanisms used by people with lupus.

The participants in the study had low disease activity and no symptoms of neuropsychiatric illness. Depressive symptoms in lupus participants were significantly associated with disengage coping and emotional coping as compared to control participants and participants with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Improving active coping mechanisms and minimizing the emotional response to stress may help lower psychological distress for people with lupus.

More research

However, it’s not the cut and dried. A 2004 study by Peralta-Ramirez, M., et. al, found that daily stressors (as opposed to major life event stress) was a predictor of worsening lupus activity. The researchers assessed the daily stress and disease symptoms of 46 people with SLE and 12 people with chronic lupus discoid for 6 months. C3 and C4 complements and anti-DNAn antibodies were also measured during this time.

Over 74% of people perceive negative changes in lupus disease activity as a result of daily stress. And, 20.7% of people perceived an increase in symptoms on both the day they experienced daily stress as well as the next day. These people had greater lupus activity as measured by their C3 and C4 complements, as well as by the anti-DNAn antibodies.


Okay. Stress is bad. Let’s get to the music

56 college-aged people listened to classical or self-selected music after exposure to a stressful scenario. When compared to sitting in silence or listening to heavy metal, people experienced:

  • decreased anxiety levels
  • increased sense of well-being

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.

Meta-analysis: music and decreasing stress

In 2004, Pelletier, C. reviewed and analyzed 22 quantitative studies where music decreased 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 better for certain people. Also, certain music genres work best to 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, music works like 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. Interested in learning more? Then, the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel-prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman is 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 rated four different environments using a scale of adjectives. The environments were:

  1. a quiet residential area
  2. traveling by train in the suburbs
  3. at a busy crossroads; AND
  4. in a tranquil park area


While rating these environments, participants listened to a variety of music or to silence. Researchers rated the songs on their activity/energy level

Fascinatingly, the researchers found that music changed people’s evaluations of the environment in the direction of the music’s energy. For example:

  • Listening to highly active songs increased the activation rating of environments perceived as low energy without music, AND
  • Listening to low activity songs decreased the activation rating of environments perceived as high energy without music.

So, how can you make the world around you seem less chaotic? Listen to calming music.

The other interesting finding was that listening to highly positive songs 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, it’s best to find the songs and style that work for you in your particular moment. Happy listening!

The End of Stress — a playlist

Comments (12)

12 thoughts on “Music, Reactions to Stress, & Lupus

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    1. Hi there!

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