Battling Stress and Anxiety with Brain Teasers and Music

Research shows music can help combat feelings of sadness and isolation.

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Anxiety and stress can affect anyone.

Whether you’re a student that’s about to face the hardest or most important test in your life so far or a marketing executive that’s put under pressure to meet your sales target, being able to go through the day without breaking down becomes more and more of a challenge when coupled with other problems that you may have.

Fortunately, there are a few proven ways to reduce anxiety without having to spend a dime, and to make things better, these are all easily accessible by anyone.

Brain Teasers

Back when you were a child, or maybe even today, you might have seen your parents enjoying a morning cup of tea or coffee with a folded newspaper on hand, eyebrows scrunched, and teeth biting on a pencil as they tried to go over the daily sudoku puzzle that’s put them in a stump for more than half an hour.

While there’s a chance that you may have found sudoku or brain teaser puzzles like those as boring before, in reality there are actually some benefits to being an avid puzzle-solver

According to a recent study that was published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, problem solving can help people with lowering anxious feelings.

When researchers at Duke University monitored the brain activity of their participants while they were doing easy math problems, they discovered that the act of solving problems feels like a reward, which in turn help fight against negative thoughts or feelings.

Specifically, the study showed that by stimulating the problem-solving center of at-risk individuals’ brains, they are able to shield themselves from the worst effects of anxiety.

When they performed a follow-up evaluation and brain scan of the study participants seven months later, the researchers were able to confirm the initial findings.

“These findings help reinforce a strategy whereby individuals may be able to improve their emotional functioning–their mood, their anxiety, their experience of depression–not only by directly addressing those phenomena, but also by indirectly improving their general cognitive functioning,” said study co-author Ahmad Hariri, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke, to Forbes magazine.

With this in mind, perhaps it would be a good idea to grab your nearest newspaper, turn to the puzzle section, and start solving when you’re feeling down.

Or if you prefer an online alternative, you can take the Wonderlic sample test.

The Wonderlic, originally designed as an online assessment to measure cognitive ability, contains questions on number series, analogies, sentence structures, geometric shapes, and basic logic.

While some of them are easy, a number of questions are designed to trick test takers with word play or needless details to distract examinees from the real problem, making this a rather challenging yet fun experience once you’ve noticed how these questions are made to misdirect people.


For those who don’t like active participation or are just too stressed out to do anything and just want to relax and wind down, another effective way to fight off negative feeling is to listen to music.

According to a large-scale review conducted by a team led by McGill University professor Daniel J. Levitin of the psychology department, they determined that after going through more than 400 research papers into the neurochemistry of music, they found out that listening to music greatly helped reduce stress experienced by a patient.

Apart from that, the team also discovered that listening to music improved immune system function and was more effective than prescription medications at reducing patient anxiety before they are taken to surgery.

The review, first published in the March 2013 edition of Trends in Cognitive Sciences, showed that listening to music increased the production of immunoglobulin A, an antibody that plays an important role in the body’s mucous system immunity.

The act of listening to music, it added, was also seen to help with reducing the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body.

“We’ve found compelling evidence that musical interventions can play a health care role in settings ranging from operating rooms to family clinics,” says Prof. Levitin in the passage at the McGill website.

“But even more importantly, we were able to document the neurochemical mechanisms by which music has an effect in four domains: management of mood, stress, immunity and as an aid to social bonding,” he added.

So if you’re feeling rather down, why not just put on a pair of earphones or connect your media device with your speakers and play a favorite tune to ease your mind?

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