Have you ever been sitting there, radio playing in the background, with your mood kind of “meh”? Then a certain song comes on and all the sudden you feel inspired to just jam out, or cry, or smile, or whatever. Fact of the matter is, music changes our moods. It just does. Now, you can stop reading here as you’ve learned all you need to know for the day- music is a mood changer. Or you can keep reading if you’d like to explore this concept a little more with me.
Although I’ve had this thought before, I recently stumbled on this concept again on my drive home from work. I’m sitting there, kind of zoning out, when all of the sudden a song that reminds me of my husband came on. All of the sudden as I glanced in the rear view mirror-I caught myself smiling! “Wow” I thought, “I feel really good”. And so I went on to play a few more songs that reminded me of him. Before I knew it, I was home and walking into my house singing. Now, I’m not exactly sure what the point is for telling you all this, except that it was what inspired me to explore this a little further. Turns out, there’s something to this music/mood connection.
Therapeutic benefits of music are subjective…sort of.
In my line of work, it’s fairly accepted and understood that music can have a therapeutic effect on people. When I ask clients what they do to relax or to “cope” with emotions, a response I often hear is “I listen to music”. What’s important to understand about this is while music can be therapeutic, it is a very subjective experience. What I mean by this is what I listen to for relaxation may be different from what my 16 year old son listens to for relaxing. And this my friends is important when you consider music as a tool for relaxation.
In fact, this could be true for all sound in general. Take for example this alarm clock my husband and I used to own. I thought this alarm clock was a personal gift from the universe to me. Kidding, not kidding. My husband thought this alarm clock needed to be disposed of with a sledgehammer. What was the big deal about this alarm clock? Well, for starters it was one of those one’s that plays various “relaxation” sounds like rainfall, ocean waves, etc. I thought that was great. Put me straight to sleep. Drove my husband absolutely bonkers. Many a morning I would wake up to find the thing unplugged and across the room. At first I thought my house had a random night intruder or a ghost who seriously disliked the sound of rainfall. Turns out it was my husband. See what I mean though? Subjective.
A study done in Athens (yep Greece) at the Athen’s Medical School looked at this subjective experience a bit deeper. The study measured artery stiffness and wave frequency, and measured what effect music had on both. Not surprisingly, participants who listened to music in their preferred genre showed a decrease in artery stiffness (artery stiffness is a bad thing by the way), and in wave frequencies associated with cardiovascular issues. This was compared to the control group who listened to nothing. However, interestingly, regardless of what the participants preferred, listening to some sort of music, whether classical or rock, showed decreased artery stiffness.
Why and how does music effect the mood?
There’s actually a lot of research (i.e. science) behind the why and the how of music effecting your mood. While there is a strong correlation between music and memory, a great deal of how music effects your mood has to do with your brain waves. Anyone who has participated in a sleep study and has had a bunch of electrodes hooked up to their face, probably has heard about the different frequencies our brains react in. Just to name a few:
- Beta Waves– normal, alert waves. Our brains emit Beta waves when we are actively engaging in conversation or working on something.
- Alpha Waves– Emitted when we are calm and relaxed. You’re still conscious but you’re taking a “mental break”…think meditating.
- Theta waves– this would be deep relaxation or sleep. If awake, think daydreaming.
- Delta waves– for the average person, you only experience this when you are sleeping, in REM sleep to be specific.
Essentially, my simple understanding of how we hear is that sound, when it hits our ear drum, is vibration. These sound waves, i.e. vibrations, in turn impact our brain waves. This is likely why things like the body sound chair are so dang relaxing!
Music and Memory
As mentioned, there’s also that strong correlation between music and memory. Remember how I mentioned that song that reminded me of my husband, and made me feel happy? Well, there ya go- prime example of music and memory! It’s not just me though, I swear. Other people experience this as well.
Research is becoming more and more common to discover the correlation between autobiographical memory and music. Because of this emerging research, it is becoming more and more common to see music incorporated into treatment for dementia related diseases such as Alzheimer’s. I witnessed the power of music in my own grandpa during the progression of his Alzheimer’s Disease. He had an iPod in his room which was loaded with music from his past- songs he loved. It was turned on and he engaged. I don’t want to sell it as some sort of magical snake oil…his disease progressed. But the thing of it is, for a moment, you could see his happiness, his relief. And anyone who has had a close loved one with this disease, watching them have even a brief moment of calm clarity in the storm that has become their mind is a beautiful thing. So anyways, I digress a little…
So, how do you feel the benefits of music?
Like I said before, the benefits of listening to music are a little subjective. I’ve seen some posts out there come across Facebook that link to certain songs with a caption saying “this song is shown to reduce anxiety 100%”. I often think, okay, 100% of the time for who? One song I listened to, while it was okay (I mean, my ears didn’t start bleeding and I didn’t burst into tears), didn’t really calm me down either. In fact, I kept checking my screen to see how much longer the song had cause truth be told I started to get annoyed.
So in a world where we are constantly being told what we should and shouldn’t like, how do you navigate and find what it going to be best for you? Well, it’s simple. Pay attention to how you feel when you’re listening to certain songs and then let those songs be your “go-to” for calming down and relaxing. Your best friend’s calm down playlist doesn’t have to be yours!
Personally, I use Amazon Prime and I have a playlist on there for pretty much every mood or occasion you can think of, so when I need a certain song (or songs), I just go to it. It is seriously a game changer for me.
Wrapping it all up…..
Are you still with me? Wow. You really hung in there. That was a lot of information! In a nutshell, music can really, legitimately be good for your well-being. It can evoke memories and emotions, it can relax and calm you, and heck it can even make your arteries less stiff. WIN! So go ahead and put on your head phones, sit back and enjoy your favorite playlist!
Until next time,
Disclaimer: I AM NOT A DOCTOR. If you have a health concern, please see a medical doctor. This blog is not meant to diagnose or treat anything. What you read here is my opinion based on my experiences and my own personal research. It’s not intended to replace medical treatment.
Merz, B. (2015, November 04). Healing through music. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/healing-through-music-201511058556
Lifestyle, C. (2018, May 14). 4 Surprising Ways That Music Changes Your Brain and Influences Your Mood. Retrieved from https://www.consciouslifestylemag.com/music-and-the-brain-affects-mood/
Vlachopoulos, C., Aggelakas, A., Ioakeimidis, N., Xaplanteris, P., Terentes-Printzios, D., Abdelrasoul, M., . . . Tousoulis, D. (2015). Music decreases aortic stiffness and wave reflections. Atherosclerosis, 240(1), 184-189. doi:10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2015.03.010
Current Research. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://musicandmemory.org/music-brain-resources/current-research/