In a study at Cornell University, Gary Evans played a recording of common office noises to forty clerical workers while they worked: typing, phones ringing, random conversations. Another forty clerical workers did not have to listen to it.
He found the first group became accustomed to the extra sound and weren't bothered by it after awhile. But when he tested them, he found they had higher levels of the stress hormone, epinephrine. They didn't think they were bothered, but they had a higher baseline level of stress.
Sound effects your level of stress hormones, for better or worse. Close a window if there is a leafblower going outside. Or turn on some soothing music. Even the sounds of birds are now available on tape or CD. Playing quietly in the background, it can have a small but noticeable effect on your feelings of security and ease.
In a study of 144 people, including teenagers and adults, the researchers took a psychological profile before and again after listening to fifteen minutes of music. Each person listened to one of four different types of music — one kind per week in a random order. The four kinds were classical, New Age, designer, and grunge rock (the study was conducted in 1997). The participants were tested on a variety of psychological measurements before and after listening to the music.
Listening to designer music (designed to be easy to listen to, lighthearted and upbeat) made them feel more relaxed and caring. It also increased their feelings of mental clarity and vigor. Grunge rock had exactly the opposite effect. The New Age and classical music produced mixed results.
If you want to feel more relaxed, more caring, mentally clearer and more vigorous, you know what to do. It is a very simple thing to do that probably won't interfere with anything else you're doing.
Researchers from McGill University and Massachusetts General Hospital asked ten musicians what music they loved so much it gave them chills. Then they were each given PET scans while listening to one of four different things: Their favorite music, silence, general noise, or other music. Here's the interesting thing: Other music was sometimes pleasurable to them, but only the music they loved caused their brains to respond the same way as sex.
In other words, the parts of the brain that respond to sex, causing you to feel great pleasure, also respond to music you love.
I have no specific recommendations here except to be aware that sounds or the lack thereof can have an effect on your anxiety level, so pay attention to it and improve it as you can.
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Direct Your Mind, and Self-Reliance, Translated. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.