Sing a little song

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

I started noticing a while ago that as soon as I got to work and opened my email, I would often start humming. What’s more, it was usually the same song, strangely enough something by Bach which I’d learned to play during a very short-lived classical guitar phase of some 30+ years ago. This song, if you call something by Bach a song, was very soothing with its long, drawn out phrases. And it was those drawn-out phrases forcing me to hold my breath for long stretches of time that ultimately tipped me off: I was nervous! Those long phrases were forcing me to breathe deeply, something I must have subconsciously understood would help the e-mail situation.

The magic of breathing…it’s something. By this time we all know how it changes everything -- how it slows the nervous system down, helps us think better, regulates our mood. If it can get someone through childbirth, it’s got to be powerful stuff. It makes sense, then, that singing or humming would also turn the tide on anxiety since it mimics deep breathing.

But there’s more to it than oxygenating. A recent study* looked at the effect lullabies have on the nervous system by measuring sweat picked up on stress stickers placed on the babies’ and mothers’ hands and feet. To gauge the difference, the mothers first sang the lullaby in an upbeat way, then sang the song in a slow, soothing way. The researchers anticipated that the slow lullaby would quiet the baby. What they hadn’t anticipated, though, was how much more calming the soothing lullaby version would also be to the mother, despite both versions requiring her to breathe in a way that regulates the nervous system. There is something in the sounds themselves that quiets us.

Next time you anxiously wonder what your inbox has in store for you, maybe try humming a little lullaby.

*Decoding the Secret Language of Babies