How Music Can Heal Your Mind, Body and Soul
From reducing stress to improving recovery from surgeries, here's all the incredible ways in which listening to your favourite playlists can heal you.
Did you know that as far back in time as Ancient Greece, music was being used to improve mental health issues? Greek philosophers played peaceful flute melodies to manic patients, while those with depression were recommended to listen to the zither, a stringed instrument. In Ancient China, music was used as a medium for spiritual elevation. Our country, too, has a rich history of making use of music for its healing benefits: extensive knowledge about music therapy as we know it today was found written on palm leaf manuscripts dating back to the 8th century B.C.
“I think music in itself is healing,” said American singer Billy Joel. Whether you need an outlet for expressing your happiness, or company when you are sad, or reassurance to keep you going after a heartbreak—music is the friend you can turn to at any time of your life. A party is incomplete without the deep bass booming through the speakers, a road trip will have its specific playlist, and in times of grief, you can turn on some familiar tunes and simply get lost in your emotions. Music can stir our imagination, lift our moods, and trigger intense emotional responses, and with such powerful effects, it is no wonder that music has been studied extensively for its powers to heal the mind, body and soul.
● Music acts as an effective stress reliever
Are you in the habit of turning on your favourite playlist to feel better when you are stressed? Science affirms this habit: according to a study published in PLOS One in 2013, music can help reduce the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. Listening to relaxing songs with a slow tempo can lower your heart rate, respiration and blood pressure, thus giving you an overall feeling of calmness. So whether you are stressed before an important interview or due for your daily deadlines, put on some slow and relaxing music.
● Music can help you fall asleep
In recent years, music has been used to reduce pain and anxiety associated with medical procedures. A review published by Brunel University, UK, in 2015 analysed the findings of 72 randomised trials of over 7,000 patients, and the conclusion was clear: those who listened to music after their surgeries experienced less pain and anxiety than those who didn't. While the science on why this works is unclear, it is believed that when you listen to music, it triggers the production of opioids in your brain, your body's natural pain relievers. The study also found that music was even more effective for those who could choose what tunes to listen to.
According to the American Music Therapy Association, music has also been observed to reduce acute and chronic pain and anxiety associated with arthritis.
● Music can help treat neurodegenerative conditions
Do you have a song that you associate with a place or a person, and no matter where you hear that song, you are always taken back to that memory? Music's incredible power to bring back memories has been found to be particularly useful for the treatment of neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia. In November 2021, the University of Toronto published the results of a study that showed regularly listening to personally meaningful music improved brain plasticity in people with early Alzheimer’s disease. Also, in those with early stage dementia, music therapy helped in memory recall, says a study published in Gerontologist in 2016.
● Music accelerates recovery from brain injuries
Music therapy has been observed to improve verbal memory and attention span in those who suffered from stroke, says a 2008 study from the University of Helsinki in Finland. Another study conducted in South Korea in 2013 shows that for patients who suffered from communication problems after a stroke, a month of music therapy can improve their communicative ability.
● Music can help you fall asleep
The age-old practice of singing lullabies to put babies to sleep can benefit adults as well, says research published in PLOS One. In a study conducted on people with insomnia, the subjects listened to a self-selected album before going to bed every day. Before adding music to their evening routine, it took them 27 to 69 minutes to fall asleep, but after listening to music, this came down to 6 to 13 minutes. Music enhances sleep because of its effects on the regulation of hormones, including the stress hormone cortisol. It can also boost the production of dopamine, which is associated with feeling happy and relieving pain, thus reducing anxiety and pain, two common causes of insomnia.