HealthTunes unveils music therapy app for stressed COVID-19 fighters


Frontline healthcare workers battling the coronavirus pandemic can now access a free music therapy app, called HealthTunes, that its developers say can help relieve stress and anxiety.

The iOS app has been “specifically created to help alleviate the mental health suffering of the courageous frontline health workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic globally,” says its developer.

The launch takes place as healthcare systems around the word are bracing themselves for a mental health crisis among healthcare workers, who have now been dealing with the COVID-19 crisis for months. HealthTunes says several studies have shown physicians are already suffering from burnout due to the pandemic.

Hospitals in the US and elsewhere have set up support and counselling services for embattled staff, and a Wall Street Journal report notes that two recent suicides in New York – the epicentre of the outbreak in the US – “highlight the urgency of the issue.”

The WSJ cites data from Mount Sinai Health System which suggests that 25% to 40% of first responders and healthcare workers in the US will experience some form of stress or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

There is also a growing range of apps becoming available that promise to reduce help with stress reduction and improve sleep, aimed at both the general public and healthcare workers, and HealthTunes falls squarely into that category.

Described as a “digital streaming pharmacy”, the iOS app provides playlists designed to alleviate stress, anxiety, burnout, and insomnia, according to Walter Werzowa, founder of HealthTunes.

“As we saw more and more headlines related to the mental health impacts of frontline healthcare workers and beyond, I knew we had to do everything we could to get HealthTunes into the hands of those that need it the most as soon as possible,” he said.

Werzowa pointed to the work being done by groups like meditation and sleep app developer Headspace, which has also shared tools with healthcare workers in the UK and US.

“We wanted to provide an additional modality for those who find meditating during a time of crisis difficult. In the same way that meditation can help alleviate stress and anxiety, so too can streaming…musical therapies,” he added.

There are reports that mental distress and illness inside and outside the healthcare community are also on the rise, and the United Nations and World Health Organization are both predicting increases in substance abuse and suicide due to COVID-19.

Few people would say they don’t sometimes turn to music as a way to relax and unwind, but there is also a body of scientific evidence on the benefits of music on stress and anxiety to back up anecdotal evidence.

A review article published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences a few years ago concluded that music can bolster the immune system function and reduce stress, including for example reducing anxiety before surgery.

Rather than simply providing music, HealthTunes relies on binaural beats, where a slightly different frequency tone is played into the right and left ear, but is interpreted by the brain as a single tone.

The idea is that the processing by the brain leads to neurophysiological changes that dampen down anxiety responses, an idea that is backed up by some studies although there are also contradictory findings, according to a review published in 2015 in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.

The binaural beats are a layer on top of “musical selections of varying genres” according to the company.

“In clinical research, binaural beats have proven to help modulate brainwaves, stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system of the body, and entrain one’s heart rate/breathing, which in turn helps users relax,” it says.