How music can help you heal
Artists are known for taking abstract concepts and forming them into something that people can relate to. Music holds a special place in this world of creativity because it engages the whole brain and, according to one John Hopkins researcher, “provides a total brain workout”. This is something that many of us can relate to, whether it’s being transported back to our childhood from a nostalgic song or having our body overwhelmed with sadness after delving into the realm of melancholic break-up songs, music holds a special place in many people’s lives. Here, we’re going to explore why making music is a way to express strong emotions or, at the very least, how listening to music can help process them.
Music and the arts in coping with trauma
There are many musicians who use pain for their craft, and I think Taylor Swift could prove this point by herself through her tales of romances gone wrong, but there is one artist that I think personifies the act of musical healing above all else: Dave Grohl.
Dave was the drummer for Nirvana in his early days, but when Kurt Cobain died, he found himself lost and not knowing how to cope. In an interview with Apple Music, Dave talks about getting a letter from another band who had lost one of their members to suicide that spoke about how though he may not want to play music right now, he will. Dave remembers distinctly thinking that “maybe this will be the thing that gets me through this” and notes how the song “This Is A Call” was a renewal for him in finding joy in playing and writing. As anyone who has been thrown into the chaos following an unexpected suicide, any joy that can be found is a small miracle. This type of processing may be backed up by science as well.
The article “Music Therapy for Posttraumatic Stress in Adults”, explores the benefits people who have undergone trauma and have strong, recurrent emotions can derive from music. According to the study, “music has been shown to reduce cortisol levels and subjective reports of stress, increase dopamine release, and foster connectedness to one’s community”. While this is important to note in and of itself, the study makes the case that these attributes can be related to Post-Traumatic Growth as well. PTSG is “the experience of positive change after enduring a traumatic event”, and is closely related to resilience.
Going through trauma is more common than not, and making music might be a good way to work through the emotions that arise from it.
Using music to relieve stress
If writing a song or creating riffs on an instrument seem too imposing, then some studies show that even listening to music can provide a plethora of beneficial effects. According to an article by Time Magazine, music can buoy your mood and fend off depression. It can also improve blood flow in ways similar to statins, lower your levels of stress-related hormones like cortisol, and ease your pain. Listening to music before an operation can even improve post-surgery outcomes.
The article cautions that not just any music will do the trick though, just as any horror movie enthusiast can attest towards. Having a go-to list of songs for when you’re feeling strong emotions can improve your mood better than just listening to anything that comes on the radio. As a general rule of thumb, slower music will be more relaxing, but this is by no means absolute. As Daniel Levitin says in the article, “were people who normally listened to Swedish speed metal, so to them, AC/DC was soothing […] There’s no one piece of music that will do the same thing for everyone.”
As we’ve shown today, it is hard to go wrong when you’re dealing with music. So the next time you’re feeling stressed or life seems to be going all wrong, belt out some tunes, noodle on that guitar sitting in your closet, or even just put on an album that’s always been there for you. At the end of the day, that song that fuels you can also be shared with the world around you, and maybe we can all start to process our emotions a little more healthily. Here is a great place to start that sharing process, so drop your go-to songs in the chat and make someone else’s day a bit more bearable. Now beat it!