Five hours of music that reduce anxiety

When I first read about the Safe and Sound Protocol two years ago, I was extremely sceptical. How could just five days of listening to an hour of music help anyone?

And yet it’s reported to make a dramatic difference those with anxiety and trauma by reducing anxiety, and also helps people on the spectrum to engage and process external stimuli better.

Being the sceptic I am, I decided to do research further, and found nothing but amazing stories of how the SSP has transformed lives – how children who were previously unable to engage at all are now conversing and making better eye contact, how children are maintaining better focus at school, and how people have managed to dramatically reduce sound sensitivities. All this from a five-day programme?

Then, I read about Dr Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory, and decided that it was time for me to take the training. In brief, the protocol helps regulate the autonomic nervous system by accessing and stimulating the vagus and facial nerves by training middle ear muscles, using specially filtered music. Pure magic!

The training complemented my neurodevelopmental therapy. I kept getting lightbulb moments while taking the course, and became convinced that I had to become a provider.

Having completed training, I immediately sent off for an SSP unit, which is a small solid state Walkman, with pre-loaded music – songs about being strong and happy.

I decided to try the protocol out on myself first. I am a fairly well-balanced person on the whole, but can sometimes get anxious about my son’s schooling, for example. I’m also middle aged, and approaching menopause, and was getting hot flushes and disrupted sleep as a result.

On the first day, I listened at bedtime, using an adult colouring book for entertainment. While doing the protocol, it is important not to have any distractions such as TVs, mobile phones, computers – any screens at all, in fact. The ideal scenario is a quiet, cooperative game, like chess or Jenga or something like that. Jigsaws would also be fine, Rubiks cubes, clay, painting, drawing etc. I found the music fairly revolting and distant: it was tinny and moved from one ear to the other and back. I had to listen with the volume turned right up. Twenty minutes or so into the tracks, I suddenly realised that I had a racing heart and was taking very shallow breaths!

How could music have caused such a reaction? So I concentrated on deep, yoga breathing. The hour went quickly. Pretty much as soon as I’d finished listening, I wanted to go to sleep. I slept right through the night until 7am, which I hadn’t done for AGES before that.

The rest of the week continued very much the same. I didn’t feel anything particularly uncomfortable or unpleasant, but just didn’t enjoy the music. Others have reported feeling anxious, tearful and panicked – it is important in this case to listen to yourself and if you feel uncomfortable in any way, pause the track, go and take a drink or a walk and come back to it when you feel ready.

After the five days, I can honestly say that I felt a lot more connected – and much more relaxed.

Important note: The SSP is marketed as an educational product, NOT a medical product, so I am framing the next paragraph as an anecdote, as SSP has not been approved for this purpose.

About two months later, I realised that the SSP may possibly have also helped regulate my monthly cycle: after a year of it being absolutely haywire, it now appears to be back to every 28 days on the dot, just like it was before – the SSP has possibly helped me achieve a better hormone balance. Having spoken to other SSP providers, I’ve discovered that I am not the only one to note incredible hormone regulation in peri-menopause and menopause. This effect is thought to be due to the effect of oxytocin on the menstrual cycle.

I have used the Safe and Sound Protocol with around 200 different clients over the last 18 months, all of whom have reported reduced anxiety, vastly improved social communication in children on the spectrum, better self-regulation, reductions in misophonia and tinnitus, better sleep, improvements in the digestive system and even a reduction in appetite.

My golden rule is that it is essential to get to know and understand each client individually: the SSP involves five hours of listening, but this five hours will look different for every single person, and it’s working out how to deliver it that makes the difference between success, almighty failure and nothing at all.

The Safe and Sound Protocol is available in my clinic, or from iLs accredited providers. Please contact me for further information.

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