Music is medicine.
Scientists call it "anecdotal evidence", but you hear the stories all the time: Classical music makes you smarter; distance runners use music for enhanced endurance; some songs boost your happiness. Other just put you in the mood.
We know music is powerful, but let’s leave the "why" aside for a moment. Here are 7 ways music rocks your world:
1. It makes you fall in love
Admit it — some of music reaches right into your heart and unlocks all the beauty of being in love whenever you hear it.
Scientists talk about dopamine and neurotransmitters, but let’s keep it simple: Don’t you really enjoy the hope you feel in your heart and the shivers you feel down your spine when you hear a favorite love song?
These tremors are actually very health-giving in ways science is just beginning to understand (for things like releasing traumatic memory, etc.). You get them in your favorite love song, use them to light up your heart and possibly heal it, too.
2. It makes you work harder and push further
There’s a reason that your endurance improves when you work out to music — and you already know that.
Runners find their second wind when just the right song comes on. (The Spotify app has a "Running" feature for this reason.) Adding music to your workout helps keep the part of you that wants to stop from being quite so persistent. When a great song energizes your motivation, you can go farther with less effort.
3. It helps you grieve
It’s not maudlin to use sad music to help you let a few tears out. Just like the soundtrack you use for exercise or sex, the songs you play to support your grief help you navigate the intensity of your sadness.
Rather than holding it all inside, it's better to let it out and feel it fully. Music has been there, as a trusted shoulder to cry on, for thousands of years. Can your BFF say that?
4. It reduces physical pain
Sometimes it seems counter-intuitive to play music when you’re in pain, but we still do it.
My daughter had a number of reconstructive surgeries when she was very young, and she started asking for a CD player and headphones during recovery. (I gifted her this song.) And David played the harp when King Solomon got headaches.
Science understands that music that soothes the mind helps the body process pain better. But you probably already knew that on an intuitive level.
5. It fuels (or calms) your anger
There’s a lot of angry music in the world. Why? Because, like sadness, music is a safe way for us to feel that sh*t ... and let go of it! It’s unsafe to rage on the road or with a loaded weapon, but music can enhance and then release feelings of anger in a safe way so you can process through it.
If you already have a sound track for anger and rage, congrats! You’ve got this one covered! Keep using it and for heaven’s sake encourage everyone you know to do so, too; we need a better way to process hard feelings in a safer way these days.
6. It jump starts your brain
If you like listening to a new genre of music that’s not in your mainstream — like classical music — you already get this. Taking time to explore something new is a great way to engage the part of your brain that science says we don’t use much.
It’s hard to explain, but there’s something satisfying about being a music hunter. I found the music of Tinariwen a few years back and it has been my go-to sound track when I just want "something else" — helps me shift gears in some holistic way. Can you relate?
Also, the right "work soundtrack" can help your mind focus and crank great ideas out with improved productivity.
7. It just makes you feel damn happy
Whether it’s a football fight song or your private feel-good playlist, you know how it feels to turn your joy music on, right? Like a movie without a soundtrack, turn off the music and life falls flat. Our human systems — especially the happy ones! — really love to punctuate great life moments with great music.
Now, here's “WHY” music does all of that:
We humans are vibratory beings. Atoms, cells, molecules, organs — everything about us and about our universe — vibrates. We hear and make vibration when we listen and speak. We see vibration as color. With every beat, our hearts makes individual rhythm for us.
The earth itself vibrates at a frequency too low for us to hear. The bodies we live in resonate with the sounds and vibrations around us, and we are either in sync with our environment (which feels good) or fighting it (which feels bad).
The vibrations in music triggers our human systems — brain chemistry mostly, but we "feel" vibration all over and respond in physiological ways that are unique to each one of us. We respond to sound and rhythm: mentally, emotionally and physically. We just can’t help it.
Here’s the juicy part: Humans have a natural inclination to sync our music to what our body, brain and heart need, and when we do, things can really feel better — fast!
So, what's the best music for you to use?
You already know this — your best music is the music you already love. Play around with it. Pay attention and start to notice how each of "your" songs makes you feel.
Do you speed up? Get thoughtful? Feel happy? Cry? Relax?
It’s good to know exactly which of your tunes works best for each activity in your day, and then queue them up accordingly to support that activity. (Even if it’s an unpleasant one!)
My wife likes to use classical music during rush hour. This stimulates her higher brain function instead of triggering her lizard brain, and that helps keep her alert and calm at the wheel. It feels good for me to know that her choice of music makes her a better, more defensive and less-rage-full driver.
In my volunteer work with at-risk individuals, I’ve encountered many folks with manic or schizoid symptoms, who use hip hop or rap to slow their brains down enough so they can function in the "normal" day-to-day.
Fair warning — this is some powerful sh*t!
There’s a time and a place for music as self-intervention. Rage Against the Machine lets me unpack rage, but I try not to use it when it might be unsafe, like in rush hour traffic or when other people who don’t "get" my music might be offended by their lyrics.
Be gentle with yourself
We all have feelings that don’t feel good. You’ll find that music resonates with each feeling uniquely, allowing those feelings to move through you and leave you. But sometimes, those feelings and emotions need a little help. So curate your soundtrack to lead you through the entire emotional journey. Not just the feeling you have now, but the one you want to end up feeling.
For example, my functional music playlist for grief has some heavy stuff in it, but I like to end that listening session with a happy tune or two to help me turn the corner … back to my "normal."
Bill Protzmann is a speaker and life coach on a mission to raise awareness about the power of music as self care. Want to join the music care movement? Check out the Music Care website or sign up for lessons.