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For individuals unfamiliar with the practice of anesthesiology, the idea of being “put under” can be extremely stressful and anxiety provoking.  One simple way patients can combat this is by listening to relaxing music just before surgery, which has been found to be a highly effective anti-anxiety strategy.

Regardless of the type of surgery or the type of anesthesia used, anxiety and fear before an operation are fairly common. Typically, this is treated with anti-anxiety medications. However, at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Veena Graff conducted a study that found these to be detrimental at times, citing negative side effects such as slowed breathing and behavioral changes. Instead, she suggests that music can be its own, more natural form of sedative in these situations.

Dr. Graff’s study included 77 patients chosen to listen to the song “Weightless” by Marconi Union due to its esteemed title of “one of the world’s most relaxing songs.” The key to this musical therapy is choosing instrumental songs with no dramatic changes in pitch or rhythm. “Weightless,” specifically, was written by Marconi Union in collaboration with sound therapists to come up with songs that were designed precisely to reduce blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety, making this song a perfect trial method.

This study found that the level of satisfaction in each group of patients (those that were given intravenous midazolam, benzodiazepine, and music therapy) were very similar. Lower levels of anxiety were reported in all three, but satisfaction overall was actually higher among the patients that took midazolam. Dr. Graff suggests that this could have been due to patients not having a choice in the music they listened to, negatively affecting satisfaction.

It remains very clear that music is an excellent adjunct to the treatment of peri-operative anxiety and there is growing support for the use of music on a more routine basis. I use music in my practice regularly and I would encourage other anesthesiologists and patients to embrace the incredible power of music!