How high schoolers stifle stress

By Brianna Brosch

Playing a musical instrument provided unexpected benefits to teenagers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The months of virtual school, uncertainty, social isolation, quarantines and canceled events have been particularly hard on teenagers. Those who have an outlet, like music, that they were able to continue to pursue, have been better off for it. 

The simple joy that comes from making music translates into psychological benefits to help with stress and anxiety brought about by the pandemic. Charlee Loyst is a senior at St. Petersburg Collegiate High School. At 17, the South Korean American is already an accomplished pianist. He has been playing the piano since age five. “Playing the piano is therapeutic, a creative outlet for me. On a hard day I’ll sit down at the piano. It’s very stress relieving.”

Teenagers who play a musical instrument enjoy the positive benefits of music during this period of social isolation. Alejandro Hernandez, also a high school senior, believes music is helping him manage stress through these times. 

“I play my guitar at my own pace and the way I want,” Hernandez said. Helearned to play through his church’s No Fret Guitar Camp five years ago. 

No Fret Guitar Camp is a local 501(c)(3) charity that provides free guitar lessons and free guitars to underserved teenagers. Hernandez participated in one of the first camps and is one of many success stories. Today, he leads worship at his church. 

“It makes me feel good how I can impact other people with my music. It is a big benefit being able to have a talent and bless yourself and others,” Hernandez said. “Music usually connects people together for good.” 

Loyst shares a similar viewpoint.

“We live in a crazy world and music helps us connect even if we speak different languages. It is a way to connect people on a more soulful level,” Loyst said.

Parents are witnessing the positive impact of their teenagers making music. Loyst credits his parents for encouraging him to take on learning the piano and sticking with it. Now that he is on the precipice of enrollment at the prestigious Berkeley School of Music in Boston this fall, he is grateful for his parents pushing him in the direction of music. 

“Music changed my life in all sorts of ways. I went from wanting to be an astrophysicist to a professional musician,” Loyst said. “The biggest benefit to listening and composing music is that I enjoy it and it makes me happy. Loving your job makes it not a job, but more of a passion.” 

Loyst shared that when he discovered his love of jazz, his perspective as to why he played the piano shifted. With his appreciation for the creativity and freedom of expression that jazz amplifies, he no longer feels the barriers of a classic learning structure and is able to enjoy this genre above all others. 

Kris Smith is the mother of Carter Smith, a 15-year-old high schooler. She credits Carter’s guitar playing as a big way in which he coped with the anxiety of quarantine and social isolation. 

“I witnessed Carter visibly relax as he played his guitar and lost himself in his music,” Smith said. 

Carter suffers from anxiety but his mother believes that music is helping him cope. Carter, along with Hernandez, also participated in a No Fret Guitar Camp.

He even  started a small band and has composed original songs. His parents believe learning an instrument has helped him in a number of ways. 

“He is less anxious, controls his stress better and appears to have a greater sense of self confidence with his newfound talent and passion to create,” Smith said.

 Elementary school music teacher, Amanda Martin, points out the benefits of music education in an article for The K-12 Teachers Alliance. Martin writes that music helps students’ language skills, memory skills, social interactions, eye/hand coordination as well as life skills. Music can also be a stress relief. 

“Work ethic and discipline are huge factors of music education, and it is important to note that those life skills will positively impact a student when entering the workforce, completing tasks, etc. Because music education is an outlet for creativity, it can be a source of stress relief.” 

The majority of researchers agree that music interventions have a positive effect on pain, mood and anxious or depressive symptoms in children, adolescents and adults. The concept that music can play a part in influencing one’s emotions, thoughts and feelings is easily understandable. 

Given that the pandemic caused society to slow down and stay home, this provided those teenagers with musical talent and training the opportunity to practice their craft. YouTube has many tutorials to build greater skills in the musical arts. Many of the teenagers interviewed indicate that they used this opportunity to hone their music skills and appreciation.

Jessica Pouranfar, a music therapist at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, writes that music releases chemicals in the brain that give a sense of pleasure.

“When listening to music that you enjoy, dopamine, the “feel-good” chemical and serotonin, the ‘happy’ chemical is released in your brain giving you a sense of pleasure and boosting your mood. Music is a great motivator and music with a strong beat will make you want to move due to a psychological phenomenon called entrainment. This is why so many people listen to music when exercising and dancing.”

In this way, music can be seen as the great unifier in a world with much diversity. Loyst echoed these findings in attributing music as a way to maintain an open mind set and consider all the possibilities.

“There are a lot of things going on in the world and music helps you understand each other more,” Loyst said.