Music: Food For Now
I saw her daily walking her two dogs and doing her shopping and I kept wondering how old she was, and if she was still living all by herself. One day one of my neighbors told me about her, the piano teacher she called her. Eventually, we struck up a conversation, and she proudly told me her age, 95 she said, as my eyes widened with surprise and I replied: “Wow, I would never tell!” She looked at me with all the wisdom in the world and said: “It’s the music, it kept me young.”
We all know that music plays a significant role in our lives. From the sole perspective of our own lived experience, music brings back memories, it helps us create certain environments, it can enhance or alter our mood, it can help us focus and perform, and it can connect us to others. It’s why we play it in weddings, to our babies, in birthday celebrations, workshops, congresses, and all sorts of live or virtual events (hello 2020).
But, can music really help us repair and energize when we’re going through such uncertain times? And how does music really affect our brains?
The Sound of Music in the Brain
Listening to music activates the pleasure circuits in the brain, and releases dopamine the feel-good neurotransmitter that plays a key role in how we feel pleasure. This connection is so strong that the brain anticipates the peak moments of familiar music and releases a shot of dopamine even before we listen to it.
If You’re Healthy And You Know it Play Your Song
But the power of music extends beyond the pleasure we feel when he hear our favourite tunes. Studies show that music can have an effect on our immune system. Listening to music is associated with an increase in immune boosting antibodies and cells that protect against bacteria and other invaders. So it’s literally good for your health. So the common advice est your veggies, could very well be followed by… and listen to your tunes!
Studies of patients undergoing surgery that listened to music showed that they remained calmer and, needed less sedation post surgery, measured by heart rate and blood pressure. Indicating that music reduces the stress response and may help recruit the rest and digest part of the nervous system.
Music has also proven to be an effective aid across a variety of conditions from premature birth, to depression to Parkinson’s disease.
A touching example that was seen and shared by millions of people, is this video of a former ballerina with Alzheimer’s disease listening to the Swan Lake and remembering her dance movements.
A Boost in Our Mood
Can you recall a moment when you were feeling down, sad and hopeless, and then you listened to a song that changed your mood and uplifted your spirit? Bright, upbeat music has the ability to make people feel happy, alert and energized.
Research shows that music can help lessen depressive symptoms, reduce pain and disability, and improve the quality of sleep in people who suffer from sleep disorders. Proof that music can, indeed, be therapeutic.
In 2015, dutch neurologist Jacob Jolij came up with a formula that allows us to identify the songs that make people feel the happiest, and he listed the 10 songs that universally produce that effect (you can find the list at the end of the article).
The Power of Music
The literature involving music is extensive and there is so much more to write about. From surgeons who improve their performance while listening to music of their own choice to improved memory of patients recovering from a stroke, to musicians that exhibit improved function in auditory processing, learning and memory, these are just a few examples that illustrate the power of music.
But we don’t need scientific data to prove what most of us intuitively know. That music can add and fill our lives with joy, hope, light and warmth heartedness and so much color, emotion, and aliveness.
Even today, during a morning walk before curfew, was due, I walked by a building, and in one of the apartments a woman was putting her clothes out to dry as she was listening to loud bright music and singing along… and I could tell that there was joy in her, in that house and that music was a big part of it.
In Times of Need
I think it’s safe to say that 2020 is a year that no one saw coming. In the midst of a global pandemic, where there is a systemic high level of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, the effort to adapt and cope with our daily lives, when there is so much change happening, requires a huge amount of energy and can leave us feeling depleted.
One of the greatest challenges we face as we move through these darker times is to keep filling our cup with joy, wellbeing and hope so that we can endure the storm and make it to a beautiful shore. And music can have an important role, especially now, that we don’t have unlimited access to some of our favorite activities and coping strategies.
Shakespeare said it best: “If music be the food of love, play on.” We could all color this year with a little more joy, a lot more hope, and a shot of being well that might just come through some of our favorite songs.
And if you need a little inspiration, here is the list of the 10 happiest songs:
Queen, “Don’t Stop Me Now”
Abba, “Dancing Queen”
Beach Boys, “Good Vibrations”
Billy Joel, “Uptown Girl”
Survivor, “Eye of the Tiger”
The Monkeys, “I’m a Believer”
Cindi Lauper “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”
Bon Jovi, “Living on a Prayer”
Gloria Gaynor, “I Will Survive”
Katrina and the Waves, “Walking on Sunshine”
Now play on ;)