Music as Therapy: Using Guitar to Manage Stress and PTSD

Life’s demands inevitably produce stress, anxiety, loneliness, and sometimes trauma that accumulate to seriously impact wellbeing. However, an accessible and proven approach exists to counteract these mental health burdens – playing musical instruments like the guitar. Beyond just entertainment, science confirms that regularly playing guitar delivers extensive therapeutic benefits to dramatically strengthen resilience.

Why Guitar Playing Reduces Anxiety and Stress

The therapeutic power of playing guitar and other instruments derives from distinct mechanisms supported by extensive research.

Achieving Cathartic Emotional Release

Bottling up emotions like anger, sadness, tension or trauma inherently causes more damage than safely expressing them. Attempting to suppress reactions rather than acknowledge them causes the amygdala to release activators which keep the sympathetic nervous system and fight-or-flight responses dangerously overactivated. This leads to inflamed stress hormone levels and cumulative anxiety.

Playing an instrument like the guitar provides a healthy conduit for cathartic emotional release. Enabling safe venting through musical expression short-circuits the body’s vicious anxiety cycle. Screaming vocals, aggressive strumming, dissonant melodies or other musical elements allow channeling difficult feelings rather than forcing stoic repression. Achieving some emotional catharsis through playing guitar prevents slow simmering into anxiety disorders or PTSD triggers.

Guitar player with a classical guitar

Activating Neurochemical Reward System

Even everyday stresses accumulate by chronically elevating cortisol while lowering healthy dopamine levels in the brain over time if left unmanaged. However, entering rewarding states of musical flow when playing guitar triggers elevated dopamine secretion just like exercise or pleasure. This stimulates the neurochemical reward system to directly counteract anxiety and trauma responses wired into the nervous system. Combining emotional catharsis with enjoyable guitar playing packs a therapeutic one-two punch.

The Proven Benefits

Extensive research on music therapy reveals that regularly playing guitar delivers measurable mental health benefits.

Reduced Anxiety and Stress Hormones

Studies confirm that as little as 45 minutes of casual guitar playing significantly lowers stress biomarkers like cortisol and adrenaline along with bodily signals – slowed heartbeat, relaxed muscles, and lowered blood pressure. Sustained musical instrument engagement elicits a pronounced calming response alleviating daily anxiety and brooding.

Mitigating PTSD Triggers and Symptoms

For those suffering from the frightening persistence of post-traumatic stress disorder following crisis events, guitar music therapy shows particular efficacy in minimizing agonizing flashbacks, panic responses, withdrawal tendencies, and other debilitating symptoms. Replacing painful re-experiencing with musical flow states counteracts PTSD neural pathways.

Building Grit and Confidence

Learning and incrementally mastering guitar playing fosters resilience and self-efficacy essential for enduring life’s challenges without crumbling. Achieving mini-goals like nailing chord changes or finally performing for others releases dopamine while proving personal competence to persevere. Building musical skills gradually through practice strengthens mental grit muscles to manage stressors.

Making Guitar Playing More Therapeutic

While any level of playing guitar reduces stress, maximizing mental health benefits requires some familiarity. Follow these best practices to enhance the guitar’s stress and trauma relief effects.

Combine Emotional Expression With Flow

Don’t just ruminatively dwell on painful emotions while playing guitar. Seek a balanced integration of cathartic venting and positive flow states. Scream out rage then get lost in satisfying improvisational jams. The combo amplifies the guitar’s therapeutic power.

Set Concrete Learning Goals

Logging hours noodling casually has less impact than focused practice pursuing defined skill-building goals like nailing down troublesome chord changes. Turn therapeutic playing into an achievement ladder to ascend. Each rung mastered builds self-confidence to battle PTSD or anxiety triggers.

Perform Informally With Others

Playing solo is fine but adding even casual social music-making introduces accountability, morale boosts, and fun – all amplifying guitar playing’s stress relief effects. Seek or form no-pressure music groups to maximize both mental health and musicianship.


Q: What credentials do I need to offer guitar music therapy?

A: Formal certification for therapeutic music intervention exists but is not required for casual sharing/teaching as peer support.

Q: How quickly will I feel mental health changes from playing guitar?

A: Research noticed hormonal and physiological shifts in minutes, but mood benefits often emerge over days or weeks of regular playing.

Q: What music works best for managing stress and trauma?

A: Start with familiar genres but branch out. Learning new styles builds brain connections. Dissonant genres can enable emotional expression.

Q: Can this substitute for psychiatric treatment if I have PTSD?

A: Absolutely not – guitar playing complements science-backed care like therapy and medications but cannot replace it. However, it powerfully supplements treatment plans when appropriately guided.

The science confirms music therapy’s efficacy. Regular guitar playing’s measurable biological and psychological effects combat multiple mental health burdens. While not replacing clinical care, integrating daily guitar engagement alongside other wellness habits demonstrably strengthens resilience. The guitar offers a convenient self-care tool always available to build a robust stress defense system.

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