Music enlivens our spirits, lifts our moods, soothes our pain, stimulates our brains and makes us smarter. It is also a powerful tool to use for self-care in daily life. In fact, music does so much for our physical and emotional well-being, researchers have identified many specific functions that it serves.
Some of these functional roles are obvious, while others are less so. For example, when we listen to a piece of music that is familiar, it may prompt memories of happy events in our past that make us feel joyful and positive. In addition, studies have shown that music can enhance cognitive skills and performance, such as spatial intelligence—which involves understanding how things work together.
Another function is emotional regulation, which can help to regulate our feelings and emotions by influencing our autonomic nervous system—the part of the brain that controls heart rate and other involuntary body functions. Music’s soothing harmonies can help to relax the mind and body, leading to decreased levels of stress and anxiety.
It is important to note that music’s effect on our emotions and our ability to process them is complex, and some people do not respond to the same music. This is largely due to the fact that the human brain is highly individual, and there are several factors involved in how we interpret a particular piece of music.
Other times, people listen to music because it has a specific meaning in their lives. A musician can create a song about a personal experience or memory, or it can be about a person they love. In this case, the music is a way to express their emotions and share it with others.
For the three to five percent of the population who suffer from a condition called musical anhedonia, which causes them to dislike most forms of music, there is still value in listening to certain kinds of music. Specifically, some types of music can trigger the release of dopamine—a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and anticipation—in the reward centres of the brain.
Ultimately, music is about relationships. Whether it is the sound of whales and birds singing, or two men strumming guitars on a crowded bus, music is a shared experience that connects us to each other.
The following are some ideas of how you can use music to improve your day-to-day living:
Move to Music
Many athletes swear by their favorite beats, using it to motivate themselves and supplement the endorphins they get from exercise. The same principle can be applied to your everyday tasks — if you want to clean the house, put on some upbeat music; or if you need to complete a tedious task, try working with background noise, such as a podcast or TV show. UCHealth and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts have created Spotify playlists that are designed to support your physical and mental health. Please feel free to explore them and find the ones that work best for you!