by Sara Cannon, MA.c, MT-BC
November 6. 2017

What's one thing 95% of HR leaders can agree on? Burnout is plaguing the workforce nationwide, no matter the industry.1 Characterized by exhaustion, detachment, and reduced efficiency, burnout can lead to depression and persist as long as 15 years.2 Burnout is a psychological response to prolonged stress at work and can increase the likelihood of physical illness such as heart disease, chronic pain, and type 2 diabetes.3 Despite growing evidence of the physical and psychological implications of burnout, researchers have not reached consensus regarding treatment.3 So, what can individuals experiencing burnout do to alleviate symptoms? One solution is music.

For over 50 years, the field of music therapy has researched how music can be a powerful tool for affecting cognition and mood.4 Music therapists use music to help people reach their wellness goals. A fundamental concept of music as therapy is the iso principle. Established as a means of mood management, the iso principle is the process of matching an individual's mood and supporting a transition to a different mood state.5 For example, a music therapist would begin by playing slow music in a minor key for an individual expressing a depressed mood. Throughout the session, the music therapist would gradually increase tempo and change to a major key as the individual reacted to the music.6 Conversely, an agitated individual would be met with loud, syncopated music from the music therapist before gradually transitioning to slower music at a quieter volume.6 Emotions evoked by music are biologically similar to regularly occurring emotions, therefore it is crucial that the music supports the individual as their mood changes from agitated or depressed to relaxed or content.7

Using the iso principle with other people requires training and practice. Music therapists are highly credentialed individuals who must obtain at least a Bachelor's degree in music therapy, complete a 1,040-hour clinical internship, obtain a national board certification, and attend continuing education courses regularly.8 Although working directly with a music therapist would be ideal, not everyone has access to one. Fortunately, music therapy research demonstrates some safe and effective alternatives for music listening and mood management. For example, in a study about computer information systems workers and music listening, mood state and cognitive performance increased when participants listened to music they selected for at least 30 minutes throughout their day.9 In another study, mood and performance of athletes improved after listening to self-selected music compared with those who did not listen to music.10 When used to support daily activities, music has the potential to affect symptoms of burnout including mood, cognition, and performance.

Through technology, accessing the expertise and guidance of a music therapist is easier than ever before. Now, music listening can be individually customized, ensuring it is safe, effective, and adaptable for the variety of symptoms that characterize burnout.


1Wilkie, D. (2017, January 31). Workplace burnout at ‘epidemic proportions'. Retrieved from

2Leiter, M. P., & Maslach, C. (2016). Latent burnout profiles: A new approach to understanding the burnout experience. Burnout Research, 3, 89-100. doi:

3Ahola, K., Toppinen-Tanner, S., & Seppänen, J. (2017). Interventions to alleviate burnout symptoms and to support return to work among employees with burnout: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Burnout Research, 4, 1-11. doi:

4American Music Therapy Association. (2017a). Music therapy journals and publications. Retrieved from

5Altshuler, I. M. (1948). The past, present, and future of musical therapy. In Podolsky E. (Ed.), Music therapy (pp. 24–35). New York: Philosophical Library.

6Heiderscheit, A., & Madson, A. (2015). Use of the iso principle as a central method in mood management: A music psychotherapy clinical case study. Music Therapy Perspectives, 33, 45-52.

7Koelsch S., Offermanns K., & Franzke, P. (2010). Music in the treatment of affective disorders: An exploratory investigation of a new method for music-therapeutic research. Music Perception, 27, 307–316.

8American Music Therapy Association. (2017b). FAQs. Retrieved from

9Lesiuk, T. (2010). The effect of preferred music on mood and performance in a high-cognitive demand occupation. Journal of Music Therapy, 47, 137-154.

10Biagini, M. S., Brown, L. E., Coburn, J. W., Judelson, D. A., Statler, T. A., Bottaro, M., Tran, T. T., & Longo, N. A. (2012). Effects of self-selected music on strength, explosiveness, and mood. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26, 1934-1938. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318237e7b3

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Experiencing burnout? Music Can Help.