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Relaxing Tapes Can Send Stress Packing

August 18, 1992|KATHLEEN DOHENY

Feeling stressed out but too cash-shy for a getaway vacation?

Consider a low-cost alternative--a trip to your local music store, where stress-reduction therapy can be had for the price of an audiotape or videotape. Growing numbers of stress-reduction tapes are appearing on the scene, their production swollen by studies and anecdotes that soothing music and the sounds of nature can quell the effects of traffic jams, work deadlines and family demands.

One stress-reduction tape, "Heart Zones," recently landed on the top 25 "Adult Alternative" list in Billboard magazine six weeks after its release. This is believed to be the first "therapeutic" tape to make the chart.

Others have more straightforward titles, like "Ocean Whisper" or "Ocean Surf." Still others combine video with audio images.

MindSource Videotapes of Phoenix, for instance, is creating a series of 12 stress-reduction tapes featuring "pristine environments" complete with natural sounds, says Christopher Zrike, president of Triad Productions. Locales for the tapes, to be available by mail order later this year, include Hawaii, Alaska and New England.

Several recent studies underscore the sense of using such tapes:

* Emergency room patients who listened to soothing music while being treated for lacerations reported less pain than patients who were not offered the option, according to a study cited in the American Institute of Stress newsletter.

* Patients undergoing MRI body scans who listened to music during the procedure reported less "nervousness" and complained less, a team from Johns Hopkins University reported recently.

* "Music therapy" is being used increasingly in nursing homes and adult day-care centers to soothe nerves and help the elderly cope with disabilities, according to a recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Assn.

Music and other soothing sounds can reduce stress in a number of ways, experts say. The MindSource programs, for instance, use frequencies that are believed to trigger the release of endorphins, says Zrike.

Lew Childre, creator of Heart Zones, tested a variety of tones and patterns on 150 subjects before deciding on the combination with the most calming effect on heart rate and other parameters.

Some melodies and sounds bring back pleasant memories or simply distract a person from pain or unpleasant feelings. "Music is a source of power people have not tapped into sufficiently," says Childre, founder of the Institute of HeartMath in Boulder Creek, Calif., which offers stress reduction programs for schools and businesses.

What works for some won't relax others, says Mary Rudenberg, a registered music therapist at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, who directs a music therapy program at the university's geriatric day hospital.

"Some respond to the structure of classical music; a lot of people are sensitive to environmental sounds," she says.

Here's how to choose a tape that's right:

* Find a program that is relaxing for you.

* Find out if the program is scientifically based or has studies proving its effectiveness, says Dr. Paul Rosch, president of the American Institute of Stress.

* Buy a tape with a money-back guarantee.

* See if the tape is endorsed or if the tape has won awards.

* Consider the length of the tape. Thirty minutes is the ideal maximum.

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