“Then those who sing as well as those who play the flutes will say, ’All my springs of joy are in You.’” – Psalm 87:7
Have you ever noticed how our feelings tend to reflect our surroundings? I once joined an online support group seeking help for a medical condition. I noticed that every time I participated, I ended up feeling worse than before. The majority of sufferers tended more toward resignation of their lot in life rather than striving to feel better. Some of the members were even judgmental of others’ painful experiences. While most support groups are places of healing and community, it was hard to get the kinship and support needed from this particular group due to its primarily negative and often unwelcoming tone.
Another online group I joined around the same time is a community of folks who love a specific songwriter. The subject happens to be my favorite songwriter whose music brings me great joy, so I thought, why not? I’ll check it out. People wrote their personal stories of how a song or album got them through a difficult time in life — illness, loss, an unexpected detour, despair — the music and lyrics moved them so much that real healing took place. In the reverse, there were heartfelt stories of the music enhancing already joyous life moments — weddings, births, family trips, memories of “the good old days.” I could relate, and I liked this group’s “good vibes.”
One night, I posted lyrics that both acknowledge the reality of pain and encourage hope for the future, and briefly shared some recent struggles. The outpouring of support by friends I hadn’t met yet from all over the world was overwhelming. I felt so much better and found connection with others through my connection to my favorite music. Not classified as a support group, I still found real support and community there, along with many others who share that sentiment. It was a bond through the same music, rather than the same illness, that provided a jump-off point to share, connect, find common ground and feel better.
We become that with which we surround ourselves. The example above highlights the healing power of music, and that support and community can be found in positive environments. Music is known as “the universal language” in that it’s something we all inherently understand regardless of our background. It also has many proven health benefits for the body, mind and spirit. By regularly including it in our lives, we can shape our immediate environment into a healthier, happier one. Be careful to choose wisely, however. There is therapeutic value in finding music that reflects our feelings; we feel less alone by hearing words and melodies that express what we’re experiencing. But if you’re already fighting the blues, for instance, then listening to the blues might increase those feelings. Choose quality, uplifting music that induces good feelings. If your chosen music has lyrics, stick to optimistic messages that provide hope and encouragement.
Here are some of music’s many therapeutic benefits that will hopefully inspire you to play and sing along with your favorite songs regularly:
Music Creates Connections
The example of finding an accidental support group through bonding over music is not an uncommon occurrence! One of the most important functions of music is its special ability to cultivate social connectedness. Think about how patriotic music and anthems unite us nationally. Hymns we sing in church enrich our worship experience by allowing us to connect to God and each other in a spirit of community. Folk music is one of the oldest oral traditions where history and stories are passed down from generation to generation through song. A familiar love song prompts spouses married for decades to reminisce about their first date. (They’re playing our song!) Lullabies soothe and encourage healthy attachment between parents and their babies. There are endless examples of how music can bring us together, build community and remind us of what we have in common.
Music Improves Learning and Memory
Some doctors encourage listening to music to stimulate our brains, while scientists validate music’s positive effect on them. MRI scans actually show the areas that light up when the brain is engaged by music. Researchers have discovered that even the promise of listening to music can motivate us to learn. In one study, people wanted to learn more when listening to a song afterward was their reward. It can also improve memory and the ability to memorize. “Music memory” is one of the brain functions most resistant to dementia. Some caregivers experience success using music to calm patients and build their trust.
Music Can Lower Anxiety and Help Depression
Listening to music triggers the release of several neurochemicals that play a vital role in mental health. Dopamine is connected to pleasure and serotonin is considered a natural mood stabilizer. Oxytocin fosters feelings of warmth and connection with others. That said, music can calm us in situations that bring anxiety. Just hearing something familiar can be so comforting and evoke feelings of peace. One study shows that even though listening to music before a stressful event doesn’t have much effect in lowering cortisol levels (the stress hormone), listening to music after a stressful event can help us recover from it faster. Music has an equally positive effect in helping symptoms of depression, specifically classical combined with jazz. Percussion-based music is also shown to have a powerfully positive effect on people suffering from depression. Since we all have different likes and dislikes, choose musical genres, artists and composers that positively affect you with serenity and happiness.
Music Decreases Fatigue and Increases Exercise Performance
Most of us have experienced that surge of energy when a favorite song comes on — the moment when your heart leaps with joy, you turn up the radio full blast and sing along at the top of your lungs. Music has been shown to lessen fatigue and it makes us want to move, so it’s only natural that it boosts exercise performance. Working out with music can lead to longer workouts, improve your mood, help you exercise more efficiently and lessen your awareness of exerting yourself.
Music Helps with Pain Management
Music therapy is the use of music to help meet the medical, physical, emotional and cognitive needs of patients. Trained music therapists help alleviate pain in both inpatients and outpatients by incorporating music into their treatment. Over 90 studies from 2016 indicate that music helps people manage both acute and chronic pain better than medication alone. This is encouraging news for anyone suffering from any type of pain, be it physical or emotional. If you think you or a loved one would benefit from music therapy, reach out to AdventHealth’s Art and Music Therapy program or the Pediatric Music Therapy program for children. Virtual classes are now offered to meet your needs. See resources below for more information.
Whether you choose to work with a board-certified music therapist or incorporate the healing benefits of music into your environment on your own, the evidence is clear: music and whole-person healing go hand in hand. It connects us to others socially and reminds us of our history. It uplifts us emotionally and helps us learn. It can calm us when we need to quiet our nerves and energize us to get moving. Most importantly, music can ease pain and keep us healthy and happy — in body, mind and spirit.
“Music is probably the one real magic I have encountered in my life. There’s not some trick involved with it. It’s pure and it’s real. It moves, it heals, it communicates and does all these incredible things.” – Tom Petty
Written by Jaclyn King
AdventHealth Cancer Institute, Art and Music Therapy: 601 East Rollins Street | Orlando, FL 32803 | 407-303-5685 |
AdventHealth for Children, Pediatric Music Therapy: 601 East Rollins Street | Orlando, FL 32803 | 407-303-5437 |
Anonymous. “Bring Music into Your Healing.” AdventHealth Blog. 28 Dec. 2018.
Stanbourough, Rebecca Joy. “The Benefits of Listening to Music.” Healthline. 1 Apr. 2020.