The Healing Powers of Music
Sometimes we forget how lucky we are. We can carry hours worth of music around in our pockets.
A few generations back we had to go to a show or play a phonograph. Now we can listen to high fidelity soundtracks crafted especially for us when we’re on the toilet, flying thousands of miles over the ocean, or when we’re in need of blocking out office noise.
While music is certainly entertaining, it’s safe to say we use it for reasons beyond entertainment. We use music to help us get through certain situations—we might be angry, sad, energised or demoralised, yet music helps us get back towards our home state.
The ubiquitous power of music has caught the eyes of several researchers and therapists, who have begun unearthing the potential of music in health care.
As already mentioned, music makes for a great emotional regulator. We can call upon it in times of sorrow, joy, pain or something peculiar.
We know that music causes the brain to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter tasked with motivating us into action. Meanwhile, sad music might also release prolactin, which helps to comfort and console us.
We can experience these effects when we take to exercise—with the right music we can run for longer. It can also be used to decrease blood pressure and heart rate and has shown to help reduce anxiety, insomnia, and depression.
Some research has found that going to a 60-minute concert can decrease cortisol and cortisone levels in our bodies, which are indicators of stress.
Bring Me Back
Oliver Sacks, who sadly passed away last year, was a well-known neurologist who found music could reanimate people with debilitating Alzheimer’s disease.
The patients, listening to songs they had enjoyed sometime in the past, had their minds flooded with memories to the point they would get up and start singing and dancing. This was a dramatic change in their demeanour and demonstrated the intimate link between music and memory.
An article on Pitchfork tells of a 22-year-old named Sean, who was spending some time at the gym, working on his squats when he “came up from a squat and felt what he thought was a burst of water in his head.”
He had a stroke, and blood was flowing into his brain. He spent the next 36 hours in a coma, only to wake and find he couldn’t control the left side of his body.
Intent on walking again, he practisedmanoeuvring the hallways of the hospital while music therapist Brian Harris walked slowly in front of him, playing the guitar to help Sean keep his rhythm.
In 6 months Sean was walking on his own once more.
Sounds Good to Me
Music as a remedy to life’s many problems is nothing new. It’s likely many long lost villagers and distant cultures used music rituals and performances to appease gods and end plagues. Aristotle believed music had the power to form character and that it purified the soul.
While not everything turned out to be true, we are beginning to see the many ways music improves upon our lives. It’s also true that we have further to go, and more secrets to unlock.