You are driving home from a stressful and frustrating day. The traffic has you socked in and you can feel your stress level going up with each minute that you wait for the traffic to begin moving again. Then your favorite song comes on the radio and you crank up the volume. Suddenly you forget your troubles and the traffic as you lose yourself in the beat of the song. You throw caution to the wind as you belt out the lyrics as if you didn’t have a care in the world. The song comes to an end and you find that your mood has lifted and you feel better all the way around.
Most people have experienced something similar to this scenario and few would argue with the idea that music can enhance mood. Many people also identify with the way that quiet soft “new age” music can enhance relaxation and sleep. Is it wishful thinking or is there something to the idea that music can change our lives and improve our health?
In the last few decades, music therapy has been receiving considerable attention among the scientific, medical, and psychological communities. Research has shown that listening to music can alter brain waves, respiration, heartbeat, pulse rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. In addition, music can boost the immune function, regulate stress hormones, decrease depression, strengthen memory, and reduce pain.
In fact, research (published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing) has shown that listening to music for an hour every day can reduce chronic pain by up to 21% and depression by up to 25%. Results from this study held true for people who chose to listen to their favorite music and those who listened to “prescribed” relaxation music. In addition to helping reduce chronic pain, studies have shown that music helps expectant mothers and surgery patients decrease the amount of anesthesia and pain medicines needed.
According to Don Campbell (author of The Mozart Effect), there seem to be several reasons that music can help reduce pain and decrease the need for pain relieving medicines. Perhaps the most significant of these reasons is that music can increase endorphin (the body’s natural “opiates”) levels. Endorphins are known to decrease pain and produce a “natural high.” Music also serves as a distraction from pain, helps relieve anxiety, and decreases the level of stress hormones.
The bottom line is that music can and does influence your mood and your health. Next time you are feeling stressed, a little blue, or have pain, try a little music therapy. Pick some of your favorite music, put on your headphones, and close your eyes and let yourself get lost in the pure joy of the music. Give yourself permission to put aside your worries and your task list so that you can really enjoy this experience and reap the benefits of music therapy.