Let the beat drop...your anxiety levels. We’re not talking about any old beats, but ones some therapists are using as a form of sound-wave therapy to help their patients combat anxiety. They’re called binaural beats—and here, clinical psychologist Brian Wind explains how they work.

What are binaural beats, exactly?

For starters, it’s helpful to know that in everyday life, the left and right ear receive slightly different frequencies of sound, but the brain registers them as a single noise. The difference between those two frequencies is the binaural beat—a pulse in your brain that your conscious mind is unaware of. For example, if your left ear receives a frequency of 100 Hz and your right ear receives 90 Hz, your brain perceives a binaural beat of 10 Hz.

How do binaural beats relate to anxiety?

Some musical tracks are designed to create specific binaural beats in your brain when you listen to them, even though they just sound like calming tunes. These beats create shifts in brain waves that affect mood and cognition, so you can choose an audio track that will result in a frequency that produces an effect like less anxiety, better REM sleep or concentration, more creativity, or greater alertness.

Patients tend to listen to them with earphones in a place without distractions for at least 30 minutes. You don’t have to close your eyes, but many people do. Some folks play binaural beats during meditation or before sleep too.

How do I know what to listen to?

Audio tracks with binaural beats are easy to find online, and there are also CDs available. However, know that sometimes an audio file is compressed to the point that it loses its effect, so you may want to ask your psychologist if they can recommend specific binaural beat audio tracks that have worked for other patients. Keep in mind, much is still unknown about this therapy, so binaural beats are not recommended for anyone who has suffered seizures or has a pacemaker or other heart problems, pregnant women, kids, or those operating heavy machinery.

What does research say about binaural beats for anxiety?

In one small study, people had a 26% drop in anxiety symptoms after listening to binaural beats for at least 20 minutes daily for two weeks in combination with therapy. Other studies show that binaural beats may benefit patients experiencing anxiety before surgery. However, research is inconclusive about the clinical benefits, so it’s not a replacement for typical anxiety treatments.

How quickly can I expect to feel better?

Some people start to notice their anxiety lessening the first time they listen to binaural beats, while others may need to listen longer. Give it three weeks, and if you don’t notice a change, try a different frequency, a different type of sound, or an audio track created by someone else. People who listen to binaural beats daily for an extended period reap the most benefits.


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