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.
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Photo used under Creative Commons from Marina K Caprara