“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” – Billy Joel
A Love For Music Is Universally Human
I recently saw Elton John perform in Chicago, and I noticed that everyone seemed unabashedly happy. There has not been a concert I’ve attended where joy didn’t permeate the air like an intoxicating perfume. Music is a time machine that quickly returns us to another time and place. We remember specific life experiences based on the beat, rhythm, and words of a song. Music is the playlist of our lives. It comforts babies; unites us with our crush during our first slow dance; inspires the theme of our high school prom; walks with us as we receive our diplomas; accompanies us down the aisle, and remembers us on our last day on earth.
Suggested Read: Remembering Loved Ones Through Songs
Research Tells Us That Music Even Heals
Music Feels Good
Music activates the same part of the brain as food and sex. When we listen to music, we are rewarded with a release of dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain associated with pleasure, motivation, and reward.
Music Makes Us Happy
Upbeat music naturally uplifts our mood. Try listening to one of these songs to flip your day from bad to good:
- “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves
- “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin
- “Hey Ya!” by OutKast
- “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey
- “I Gotta Feeling” by The Black Eyed Peas
- “Happy” by Pharrell Williams
- “Say Hey (I Love You)” by Michael Franti and Spearhead
- “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” by Iz Kamakawiwo’ole
- “Smile” by Uncle Kracker
- “High Hopes” by Panic at the Disco
Music Treats Illness
The Johns Hopkins Center for Music and Medicine is creating groundbreaking research using music to treat neurological diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, and stroke rehabilitation. A recent study found that singing fosters improved neurologic function while elevating the mood and spirit of Parkinson’s patients. Music can also facilitate stroke victims’ ability to walk normally and help repair their speech and language network.
After noticing the Neonatal unit was abuzz with the discordant sounds of machinery, Robin Spielberg, a professional pianist, was granted permission to play music by her daughter’s station. Over the course of four months, hearing Robin’s music improved her daughter’s vital signs, specifically her oxygen saturation levels increased, her blood pressure stabilized, and her heart’s rhythm was less erratic. In fact, all babies within earshot of the music experienced similar improvements. Robin’s personal story has been correlated with the research of Dr. Jayne Stanley from the University of Tallahassee.
Music Reduces Pain and Anxiety
Kathleen M. Howland, a music therapist, found that music activates the relaxation response in the brain. This may reduce the amount of anesthesia and pain medication needed before surgery. Furthermore, music relaxes women before giving birth, reduces stress in caregivers, and reduces anxiety in cancer patients.
Whether in cardiac or neurological rehabilitation, patients work harder physically when music is playing. Compare it to an exercise class without music; motivation levels decrease without a beat to pump us up.
Music Reduces Trauma’s Effects
Natural disasters, war, terrorist attacks, mass shootings, and abuse can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in its victims. Music allows individuals to navigate through feelings of fear, shame, and anxiety and express their emotions.
According to the American Music Therapy Association, music assists victims in the following ways:
- Provides non-verbal outlets for emotions
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Creates positive changes in mood and emotions
- Increases participation in treatment
- Elevates feelings of control, confidence, and empowerment
- Improves blood pressure and heart rate, and reduces muscle tension
Music Is Everywhere
With instant access to songs through apps like Apple Music or Spotify, we can create playlists that raise us on our darkest days. It’s certainly a comfort to know that music not only heals us, but improves our ability to cope with life’s challenges.
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