Jessica Steinhebel ’09 Gives Tips to Manage Stress with Music Therapy | University of Portland

Jessica Steinhebel ’09 Gives Tips to Manage Stress with Music Therapy

Two women playing cello with logo that says University of Portland Pilots Give Back Spring 2020Through music therapy, Jessica Steinhebel ’09 helps some of the most vulnerable in our community.

A licensed therapist, she uses music as a tool to aid clients with pain management and anxiety, to increase relaxation, and elevate moods. She currently works in hospice care at a facility in Oregon. In some cases, she has helped patients create music-focused legacy projects, so families can have a way to remember their loved one.

“I’ve seen families and patients laugh and cry happy tears while playing maracas together to a patient-preferred tune,” she says. “I’ve seen patients with advanced stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease with no reality orientation to self and the environment, but then [they] suddenly looked right at me and started singing along to one of their favorite songs.”

During this health crisis, her focus has shifted toward her hospice care work, since most of her patients are currently in lockdown, preventing a lot of the one-on-one therapy she would normally do.

Because so many of us are feeling stressed about the pandemic, she offers some suggestions on how to use music therapeutically for self-care.

1. Make a playlist

If you’re feeling stressed, Steinhebel suggests making a playlist of songs that pick up your mood. “Make sure it’s your preferred music,” she adds. “Either listen to it while lying down with eyes closed or listen while doing things around the house.”

2. Learn a new instrument

If you have access to a new musical instrument, it can be a great way to give your brain a work out. “It’s great exercise for your brain, it’s fun, and it will provide a distraction.”

3. Find a slow song and match your breathing to the beat

For some relaxation, find a slower song (Steinhebel suggests a song 60 beats per minute or lower) and match your breathing to the tempo, inhaling through your nose for four beats, resting a beat, and exhaling through your mouth for six beats. “Do this at least six times,” she says. “This will help to lower your pulse and heart rate, increase oxygen intake, lower blood pressure, and decrease the level of stress hormones.

4. Sing in the shower

Despite how silly it might seem, singing in the shower can be a major stress relief. “Seriously! It helps you relax, increases oxygen intake, and increases the production of endorphins.”

5. Write your own song parody

Feeling creative? Write a song parody to have a little fun. “Plus, if it’s about the pandemic, it will help you get some of those anxious feelings out on paper.”

6. Listen to an instrumental song and write about it

Pick an instrumental song and write down some of the elements that you liked, why you liked them, and how the music made you feel. “This helps with distraction,” she says. “This is especially great if you are a parent at home and need to distract your kids.”

7. Listen to your favorite song and write about gratitude

Pick your favorite song and write down things you’re grateful for, as many as you can. “When we are feeling anxious or stressed, we often get stuck in focusing on the negatives or what we are missing out on,” she says. “Switching that mindset to things that you have and are grateful for can elevate mood and change your perspective.”

Through music therapy, Steinhebel reminds us of the power that music holds. “Music is often seen for just its entertainment value, but it’s also such an important therapeutic tool that can help people,” she says. “Music therapy allows me to help others strive for wellness through music and create opportunities for others to connect.”