The COVID pandemic has been an emotional strain for so many of us, whether we’ve felt incredibly socially isolated during the peak of national lockdown, lost our jobs, or received much lower A-Level grades than we expected in an algorithm by the UK Government—all during a global pandemic.
We conducted some research to find out the impact COVID-19 was having on our personal lives—and it appears we’re turning to music when we’re stressed.
The impact of stress from COVID-19
Over the last few years, before COVID-19 swept the world and disrupted everything, there were many reports from global media outlets that we were more stressed than ever. In 2018, it was reported that 74 per cent of the British population were ‘overwhelmed or unable to cope’ at some point in that year. In 2019, a third of 150,000 people interviewed in over 140 countries were found to suffer from stress. The top two sources of our stress have been found by the American Psychological Association to be caused by money and work.
These emotions have been exasperated by the current situation we’re in because of COVID-19, with over half of adults feeling stressed and anxious and almost two-thirds worrying about the future. The Guardian reported that there was a surge in people booking online doctor appointments during lockdown as GP surgeries tried to minimise face-to-face exposure while more and more patients sought mental health support.
According to Statista, the most common types of stress experienced in the UK in 2020 are:
- Work stress — 79%
- Financial stress — 60%
- Family stress — 48%
- Health stress — 45%
- Relationship stress — 35%
- Other — 8%
Stress trends have grown over the last year
We conducted some research on Google Trends to find out searches around stress, comparing 2019 to 2020. The data assigns an interest score from 0 to 100 based on how popular a search was over a period of time. According to the data, unsurprisingly, “anxiety symptoms” had a score of 100, followed by “depression” with 80, “anxiety help” with 67, “anxiety attack” with 57, and “stress” with 47. Searches which grew the most throughout 5th October 2019 to 5th October 2020 were “coronavirus anxiety” and “anxiety and coronavirus” experiencing a growth of over 5,000%, “lockdown anxiety” increasing 4,200%, “signs of an anxiety attack” 200%, “mixed anxiety and depression” 180%, “shortness of breath anxiety” 120%, and “anxiety cough” 120%.
Shortness of breath is a key symptom among many for COVID-19, which has been advised by healthcare professionals that the public look out for. This could explain anxious searches around this symptom.
Is music the answer?
There are many things in life that can bring us joy and escapism from our daily stressors. This year, it seems that music has taken centre stage.
In 2019, “stress relief tablets” were the most popular de-stresser with an interest score of 100, while, “relaxing music for stress relief” had an interest score of 30. Interestingly, relaxing music had seen a growth of 180% since then, and in 2020, it came top with an interest score of 100.
It isn’t surprising that we turn to music when we have unlimited access to it, with streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music and digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Nest at the touch of our fingertips and voices. Although technology has been dominating our lockdown lives, whether we’re working from home, socialising with friends, or being entertained by media and music, it seems that traditional methods of music are making a comeback. Vinyl sales have outgrown CDs, suggesting that we’re getting sick of the current times and are looking to nostalgic ways to listen to music that is comforting us in times of stress.
Nostalgic objects, similar to a blanket or a familiar cuddly toy, can help us navigate particularly stressful times of our life. It is a natural instinct to return to comforting objects and behaviours for a sense of stability.
Listening to audio content online at least weekly in the United Kingdom (UK) as of 2020, by age group and platform
The radio is in decline and streaming is on the rise—COVID-19 has not only changed our work routines and social lives but what we listen to and how we listen to it. Even in the U.S., working from home has equated to more time for entertainment. Towards the end of March 2020, 60% of people engaged with more entertainment according to Nielsen Music.
How music makes us feel good
Many scientists have observed the profound relationship that human beings have with music, with every culture, current or past, making music. Music stimulates an extensive network of brain regions and centres, including reward processing.
According to the journal Psychology of Music, listening to music can lower heart rate, blood pressure, and other physiological parameters associated with anxiety and depression. It is also effective in improving mood and strengthening emotion regulation. Interestingly, CNBN reports that older songs have been on the rise, suggesting that we’re feeling nostalgic of previous, happier times with familiar songs, with older music dominating playlists in lockdown.
According to Google Trends, interest for pop music skyrocketed in April, during the peak of harsh lockdown restrictions, garnering an interest score of 100—the highest possible. Classical music and video game soundtracks, which are designed to focus players without being intrusive, have also been played more in lockdown as we work and study from home. This has allowed us to become more engaged with our work.
What music has been your escapism this year? Have you enjoyed the old classics or searched for something new in these trying times?
Panteleeva, Y., Ceschi, G., Glowinski, D., Courvoisier, D.S. and Grandjean, D., 2018. Music for anxiety? Meta-analysis of anxiety reduction in non-clinical samples. Psychology of Music, 46(4), pp.473-487.