Though science has yet to determine music’s evolutionary purpose, its significance to humankind today is undisputed. Research even shows that a small portion of the human brain is specifically designated to process music. While it may have served a different purpose in prehistoric days, today we use music in many complex ways—even when we don’t think we’re “using” music so much as simply listening and enjoying it. For example, music can be a tool for coping and healing during difficult times. Listed below are four ways that music can make hard times more bearable.
Music helps us make a connection with others.
When you’re experiencing a difficult time in life, you may spend more time alone, pulling away from bonds that you share with friends and family. This kind of isolation can often make you feel socially disconnected at a time when you most need the support of a community.
In these instances, music may provide a simple and effective way to reestablish connections with other people, as studies show that listening to or performing music is an excellent way to form social bonds. It is a nearly universal interest for people from entirely different backgrounds, cultures, and lifestyles. Because nearly everyone enjoys music in some form, it is also an incredible unifier, giving strangers something in common from the moment they meet.
When we listen to music with other people, science suggests that the brain releases neuro-chemicals that help facilitate feelings of intimacy and connection. The effects of music on human connection may be even stronger when people make music together, by playing instruments or singing. At times when people feel alone during difficult periods, music may provide a way for them to reconnect and find the social support needed to overcome challenges.
Music allows us to evaluate difficult emotions.
In the same way that difficult times of life often leave people feeling socially isolated, they can also cause people to shut down emotionally, unable to express or understand the negative feelings that they are experiencing. However, expressing emotions is one of the best things that you can do for your mental health during a challenging time, as it allows you to sort through your feelings, gain perspective, and let go of stress and tension.
When you don’t have someone that you feel comfortable talking to, music can provide a healthy outlet for emotional expression. Listening to music that resonates with a particular emotion can be a subtle yet effective way to explore complicated inner thoughts, and may allow you to gain a better understanding of your own feelings. Lyrics and melodies written by musicians may convey complexities that you can’t put into words yourself, but which perfectly capture your underlying emotions.
Music promotes relaxation and stress reduction.
Along with prompting sadness, discouragement, or anger, life’s challenges cause an enormous amount of stress. While a small amount of everyday stress can have a positive influence on human behavior, intense stress can lead to mental and physical health problems, including depression, inability to focus, fatigue, headaches, and trouble falling asleep.
Studies in recent years have revealed that people who are dealing with significant stress can turn to music as a method of stress reduction. In one instance, researchers found that music with a tempo of about 60 beats per minute encouraged the brain to synchronize with the song’s rhythm, generating alpha brainwaves in the process. This helps reduce stress because alpha brainwaves are present in the brain when a person is feeling awake and relaxed. In another study, research showed that hospital patients who needed surgery experienced a lower degree of stress if they listened to music before and after their operation.
During stressful times, setting aside time to listen to soothing music may be an excellent decision. Though it might seem like dedicating time out of a busy day to sit and listen to music is frivolous, the small time investment may lead to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and a greater ability to deal with challenging situations.
Music helps you get more sleep.
Sleep problems arise during life’s more difficult periods, brought on by the stress of having to deal with something that stretches your coping abilities. If you’ve ever had difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, you know all too well that sleep problems can wreak havoc with your mood, energy level, ability to focus, and work performance. Over time, sleep deprivation can lead to more serious mental health conditions, such as depression—an illness that can make it even more difficult for people to overcome any problems that they are facing.
To combat the negative effects of sleep deprivation, research has shown that music has the potential to increase both the quantity and quality of sleep. In one study, people who listened to 45 minutes of music while lying down to sleep every night for three weeks had feelings of more restful sleep, fell asleep faster after lying down, and slept for longer periods of time.
During difficult times, being well rested is a crucial part of being equipped to handle challenges, but it’s often an elusive state to attain. Soothing, enjoyable music is a natural antidote to the restlessness and exhaustion that accompany frustrating circumstances.
Music is one of the world’s most important, unifying art forms and activities. It brings people together from all cultures, ages, and backgrounds, and has the power to improve the lives of those who engage with it in simple yet significant ways. Listed below are four ways that music can improve everyday life.
1. Stress and anxiety regulation
Recent studies by the American Psychological Association (APA) have shown that stress levels are higher than they have ever been. In addition, stress appears to grow in scale with each passing year. In the United States, the top causes of stress include work pressure, money troubles, health crises, and problems in relationships. Anxiety and stress are noted to be the root cause of up to 60 percent of diseases and illnesses, and are known to increase an individual’s risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart disease.
No matter the source of the stress, professionals in the psychological community suggest that playing or listening to music may help relieve symptoms of stress and anxiety by lowering the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone in the brain. Scientific studies have revealed that music is able to reduce feelings of anxiety in pre and post-op surgery patients, decrease feelings of overwhelm in busy nursing students, and also reduce stress and emotional upset in patients living with cancer.
Listening to calming music during stressful times can lead to a more relaxed state of mind, leaving people better equipped to deal with challenges as they arise.
2. Improved memory and productivity at work
Many people look for ways to improve their job performance, whether motivated by a personal desire to excel or through incentives like higher pay. An improvement in job performance may allow people to receive the kind of praise and recognition from their manager that allows them to feel more fulfilled in their careers, and therefore more content, both on the job and at home.
Incorporating music into a work routine has been shown to help employees focus better, improve memory, and learn new tasks faster. Listening to music on headphones can help employees tune out the many distractions of a busy office, make a repetitive task seem more engaging, and even stimulate a release of dopamine that keeps the mind motivated and on task.
People who are looking for a way to improve and increase their professional output should consider making music a regular part of the workday. One study suggests classical music for jobs that require attention to detail, pop music for data entry professionals or people who are on a deadline, ambient music for work that involves solving equations, and dance tunes for tasks that rely heavily on problem-solving or proofreading.
3. Increased sense of empathy
Empathy is the character trait that allows us to relate to one another. It is loosely defined as the capacity to understand and respond to the feelings of other people—in other words, the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes. At the most fundamental level, empathy is what connects us as human beings. It’s necessary for establishing the strong, close relationships with family and friends that we humans need to be happy and fulfilled.
Studies of children as young as elementary school age have indicated that participation in music programs with others resulted in an advanced ability to recognize and respond to the emotions of their peers. This effect was determined, in part, to be the result of young students having a shared experience that mandated the participation of all group members. The study also showed that these children had an increased ability to cooperate and practice patience; these abilities contribute to the formation of better social relationships.
Others studies on this subject show that people who listen to music rather than play it may also see empathy gains. In one study, the area of the brain associated with empathy lit up in test subjects when they were told that a piece of music was composed by a human, but did not light up when subjects were told the piece was written by a robot. Professionals believe that our empathy may be heightened when listening to music due to the fact that we are inclined to try and understand the meaning or intent behind a musical composition when we hear it.
4. Better physical health
Few factors are as important as physical health when it comes to maintaining a happy life. Whereas being healthy allows you to focus on all the things that make life worth living, struggling with health problems can make everything seem difficult and less enjoyable.
Professionals suggest that music may be able to help people maintain better physical health in surprising ways. Music that plays at a rate of 60 beats per minute can cause the listener to become more relaxed, with a reduced heart rate as well as a drop in blood pressure. In addition, some studies show that prolonged exposure to upbeat dance music may increase levels of antibodies in the bloodstream, strengthening the immune system.
Music further encourages good health through its ability to motivate people during exercise. Those who listen to their favorite songs during physical activities reportedly feel less fatigue, as they tend to focus more on the songs rather than any exhaustion they feel. Staying motivated and sticking to an exercise regime is a crucial component of a long-term plan to stay healthy.
Music therapy has been proven to help children with special needs. It is also an effective tool for a variety of other medical conditions. For example, according to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy can be used for pain management and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Board-certified music therapists are employed in a variety of settings, including hospitals, schools, and rehabilitation programs. These professionals are trained in music techniques that help patients relax and take the focus off their medical conditions.
The United States has over 70 music therapy programs. Anyone who wishes to pursue this profession must complete a national exam in order to obtain certification.
Some music therapists use portable electronic keyboards, percussion instruments, or guitars. Others use a combination of live instrumentation, singing and recorded music. Using a variety of tools can help music therapists tailor sessions to an individual’s specific condition and preferences.
Music Therapy Helps Children with Certain Psychological Disorders
For those who have psychological disorders, music therapy can be especially helpful. Psychologists have long known that music therapy is therapeutic for conditions such as autism and can be especially soothing to children with emotional disturbances.
Emotional disorders can significantly impact family and academic life. Music therapy can help alleviate some of the symptoms of these conditions and foster emotional growth in a child.
Music therapists are trained to identify factors that can affect a child’s level of functioning. From there, they can customize a music therapy regimen to reduce anxiety and improve emotional responses. This improvement may translate into better interactions with peers as well as stronger relationships with family members.
Improved Social Functioning
Children who have emotional disorders may feel as though they do not fit in with their peers. This can actually worsen their symptoms. Engaging in music therapy, particularly in a group setting, has been demonstrated to help these children acclimate to being around others.
Children who participate in music therapy in a group setting also have the opportunity to sing and play along with others. This gives them a common goal to work for and reinforces the concept of teamwork.
Music therapy is especially effective for pain management, not only in adults, but in children as well. Music therapists use music both to help keep the patient’s mind off of their pain and to teach them to associate pain with something positive.
Visualization is the most important part of the music therapy when used as a way to mitigate pain. This is because pain is often preceded with fear and anxiety, which may make pain seem worse than it actually is.
Children who are taught to visualize their pain subsiding can eventually learn to associate music with calm and relaxed feelings, rather than focusing on the pain. By putting them in control, individuals may begin to feel that they do have a degree of power over their condition.
While many believe playing recorded music can generate the same effect as music therapy, music therapy is considered a superior option. This is because with music therapy, the sounds are controlled by the music therapist and the participant.
As a result, the changes in a patient’s physical condition that occur during a music therapy session can be matched with the rhythm of the music. This gives sessions a personalized feel.
Music therapists are trained to anticipate and respond to the changing needs of the individuals they work with. They understand how overall sound quality can affect the overall outcome.
Music therapy has been shown to be so effective that in some cases it can be used in lieu of pain medication. In a randomized clinical trial that studied patients before and after a lumbar puncture procedure, it was found that primary pain scores, respiratory rates, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation all improved after receiving group music therapy sessions. Additionally, anxiety scores were much lower following a music therapy session.
Music has been proven to benefit lives in a variety of ways, including improving academic success and social skills. Music therapy continues to grow in popularity, and many devoted musicians have demonstrated an interest in pursuing the certifications necessary to become music therapists themselves.
The website www.musictherapy.org, which is administered by American Music Therapy Association, has a wealth of resources and information on the topic of music therapy. You can also visit their site to locate a qualified music therapist in your area, or you may email them directly for assistance.
Scientists have long touted the benefits of music, giving credence to what most people intuitively knew: music is powerful. It can set a mood, convey emotion, get people moving, and help cement a moment in time.
What many people don’t realize, however, is the effect that music can have on one’s physical health. With an impressive list of benefits, music can be one of the least expensive forms of therapy as well as one of the most effective.
Helps in Surgery
According to a recent study, Parkinson’s disease patients undergoing brain surgery were calmer when listening to song melodies. There was a significant difference between patients who listened to no music, those who listened to rhythmic musical pieces, and those who heard melodies. Further evidence of how calm they were? Many patients fell asleep during the surgery, waking when the procedure was over.
Increases Heart Health
People often remark that a particular event or activity “makes their heart happy.” Few, however, realize that listening to peppy, joyful music actually does improve their heart’s health. When people listen to upbeat songs, the diameter of their blood vessels increases (some reports show up to a 26 percent increase), allowing for increased blood flow. Conversely, listening to sad, anxiety-inducing music can decrease blood flow by up to 6 percent. Concerned about your heart’s health? Crank up the radio.
Individuals who have taken music lessons demonstrate a higher level of recall ability than those who had no musical training. When shown a list of items and later asked to verbally recount the items on the list, children with musical training outperformed the others. This has long-term implications for adults who may be concerned about memory loss.
Impacts Transplant Longevity
Although it is still in the discovery stage, research suggests that heart transplants in mice can be aided by exposing the mice to classical music. A study done by Japanese doctors showed that mice who underwent heart transplants lived longer when they listened to music by artists such as Mozart and Verdi.
Not all music is the same: mice who were played new age songs, listened to no music, or were simply given a sound frequency did not receive the same benefits. Future implications of this study remain to be seen, but adding a few classical songs to your playlist can only help.
Mimics a Massage
Many people remark on the healing, relaxing benefits of a massage to soothe tired muscles, relieve stress, and improve one’s outlook. Don’t have access to a masseuse? Researchers discovered that over a three-month period, people who listened to relaxing music showed the same results as those who received a one-hour massage once a week. For individuals feeling stressed, this cost-saving measure can help relieve anxiety and improve mood.
Reduces the Effects of Aging
A fascinating study of the brain revealed that individuals aged 60 to 83 who had received musical training during their lifetimes performed better on tests that explored brain function. Across the board, individuals who had received music lessons (at any age) fared better than those who did not. There were significant differences based on the length of lessons given, with the greatest brain function evident in those who had the most musical training.
Not only does music help reduce anxiety and fight aging, listening to music can help reduce feelings of pain, a new study shows. When participants in the study received an electrical shock in their fingertips, those who were listening to music reported less pain than those who did not have music.
Improves Sound Processing
Those who play a musical instrument or who have received musical lessons demonstrate an increased proficiency for sound processing. In addition, there is a direct link between the length of time an individual studied an instrument and his or her performance on hearing tests. The longer people took lessons, the better their results.
Facilitates Stroke Recovery
According to scientific evidence, people who listen to music soon after experiencing a stroke see a significant improvement in verbal memory and show an increased attention span. When combined with physical therapy and other recovery options, it can lead to a faster return to normalcy for many patients.
Music has an impressive list of benefits and applications that humankind is just beginning to understand. Using this effective method of improving mood, increasing blood flow, and recovering from surgery is both cost-effective and efficient. With so many studies validating the positive effects of music training, parents would be remiss in not offering music lessons to their children.