Anyone who's ever loved a song or cried to a great album knows: Music is a uniquely powerful force.
There's actually a scientific basis for that feeling of euphoria and comfort you get from listening to certain music. Music can do a ton of extraordinary things—it can increase our dopamine levels, can affect breathing and heart rate, and can even transport us back in time by triggering our emotional memory.
Because of its unique capabilities, music has long been a popular form of healing across the world. Many ancient religions believed the world was a collection of vibrations, and "good vibrations," or harmonious sounds, could promote healing and balance, while jarring vibrations could lead to physical and mental disturbances. "In Vedic teachings, the science of the influence of sound and music is known as Gandharva Veda. Through this practice, the music of nature is used to restore balance to your mind and body," writes Vedic educator Adam Brady. "Using specific pieces of music or melodies, vibratory coherence can be strengthened, assisting with healing and helping to settle the mind."
Earth's Vibrational Frequency - Schumann Resonance Healing Music With Binaural Beatswww.youtube.com
In the modern world, music therapists are still being utilized everywhere from psychiatric facilities to nurseries to corporate retreats and beyond. In general, music therapists are trained to play specific kinds of music to evoke certain responses. Often, their work goes beyond emotions and treats physiological ailments. In some recent clinical studies, music has been able to restore lost speech, reduce side effects of cancer therapy, relieve pain, and improve life for dementia patients. It can improve symptoms for schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, and can even increase empathy. In other studies, music has literally changed the shape and increased the resiliency of human blood cells, possibly increasing the human lifespan.
This healing happens in all different ways. Sometimes, music and sound therapists use specific frequencies and sounds to target very specific ailments. Other times, lyrics play a stronger role, either motivating patients or inspiring them or making them feel less alone. Sometimes music therapy even involves teaching patients to play their own instruments and to write their own songs. Music has also long been used in social movements, with songs like "We Shall Overcome" and "Turn, Turn, Turn" playing integral roles in tying protests together. So if you've ever heard a song and felt like it changed your life, you're probably not alone—music can do a lot more than change your mood: It can also change the world.
We Shall Over Come - Mahalia Jacksonwww.youtube.com
If you're dealing with mental health issues or are simply seeking inspiration, finding a music therapist might be a great alternative to traditional talk therapy. But there are also some easy ways to also incorporate music into your self-care practice.
How to Use Music to Relieve Stress and Anxiety
If you want to use music to help with anxiety, one study from Stanford University found that three types of music reduce stress best:
- Native American, Celtic, Indian stringed-instrments, drums and flutes
- Sounds of rain, thunder, and nature
- Light jazz, classical, and easy listening
You can also participate in a healing sound bath or a sound meditation, which are widely available on streaming platforms like Spotify and YouTube. Here are a bunch to listen to, via the University of Nevada. (Try "Echoes of Time," a Native American flute music piece, or "Weightless," a composition by Marconi Union designed to reduce blood pressure and lower levels of cortisol stress hormone).
Marconi Union - Weightless (Official Video)www.youtube.com
You can also try listening to recordings of Tibetan singing bowls, which are specially designed to fill your body with healing resonance.
Quick 11 min. Chakra Tune-up with Himalayan Singing Bowls HDwww.youtube.com
In general, positive-sounding and peaceful compositions will get the job done, though of course sad songs can also offer necessary catharsis.
For an optimal stress-reducing experience, make sure you drop everything and allow yourself to listen to the music. Don't use your phone or do work while listening; instead, throw on a pair of your best headphones, lock yourself in a dark room and let the sound waves wash the rest of the world away, bringing you into a magical realm of peace and harmony. This can bring your brain into an "alpha state," which is "that relaxed but alert feeling you get when activity ceases and you have a moment to reflect and recharge," according to Dr. Frank Lipman.
Use Music to Raise Your Mood
On a basic level, happy music can make you happy—though of course it doesn't always work out that way. Still, since music has such a strong effect on memory, if you're looking to raise your mood, you might seek out songs that remind you of truly happy moments.
You can even preemptively design a playlist of music that will make you happy during tough times. The next time you're about to do something fun or are feeling content, make a playlist of songs that you listen to exclusively during that experience. Listen to it over and over, and then when you're feeling nostalgic, cue up that playlist and let the memories live on.
According to a Stanford University study, upbeat, energetic, and rhythmic selections can (unsurprisingly) raise one's mood most effectively. Compositions like Duke Ellington's "Take the A Train" and upbeat Beatles tunes were specifically effective in raising subjects' moods.
Duke Ellington, "Take the A Train"www.youtube.com
The Beatles - Hey Judewww.youtube.com
Music can also help out with insomnia. Mike Rowland's "The Fairy Ring" and G. F. Handel's "Water Music" were effective in helping patients sleep.
The Fairy Ring, Part 1 (Remastered)www.youtube.com
Regardless of what you listen to, most music therapists suggest that you spend at least 15-20 minutes giving your full attention to your music selection.