May 22, 2019

The healing power of music

Madison, Wis. — It’s been called many things – the universal language, a great healer, even a reflection of the divine. While there’s little doubt about the power of music, research now shows us just how powerful it can be.

“Across the history of time, music has been used in all cultures for healing and medicine,” said health psychologist Shilagh Mirgain, PhD. “Every culture has found the importance of creating and listening to music. Even Hippocrates believed music was deeply intertwined with the medical arts.”

Scientific evidence suggests that music can have a profound effect on individuals – from helping improve the recovery of motor and cognitive function in stroke patients, reducing symptoms of depression in patients suffering from dementia, even helping patients undergoing surgery to experience less pain and heal faster. And, of course, it can be therapeutic.

“Music therapy is an established form of therapy to help individuals address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs,” said Mirgain. “Music helps reduce heart rate, lower blood pressure and cortisol in the body. It eases anxiety and can help improve mood."

Music is often in the background just about anywhere we go – whether at a restaurant or the store. But Mirgain offers some tips to help use music intentionally to relax, ease stress and even boost moods:

Be aware of the sound environment

Some restaurants use music as a way of subtly encouraging people to eat faster so there is greater turnover. If you’re looking for a location to have a meeting, or even a personal discussion that could be stressful, keep in mind that noisy environments featuring lively music can actually increase stress and tension.

Use it to boost your energy

On the other hand, when you need energy levels to be up – like when exercising, cleaning or even giving a presentation – upbeat music can give you the lift you need. Consider using music when you’re getting ready in the morning as a way to get your day off on the right beat.

Improve sleep

Listening to classical or relaxing music an hour before bedtime can help create a sense of relaxation and lead to improved sleep.

Calm road rage

Listening to music you enjoy can help you feel less frustrated with traffic and could even make you a safer driver.

Improve your mental game

Playing an instrument can actually help your brain function better. Faster reaction times, better long-term memory, even improved alertness are just a few of the ways playing music can help. Studies have also shown that children who learn to play music do better at math and have improved language skills.

Reduce medical anxiety

Feeling stressed about an upcoming medical procedure? Consider using music to calm those jitters. Put your ear buds in and listening to your favorite tunes while sitting in the waiting room can ease anticipatory anxiety before a medical procedure, such as a dental procedure, MRI or injection. Ask your health care provider if music is available to be played in the room during certain procedures, like a colonoscopy, mammogram or even a cavity filling. Using music in these situations distracts your mind, provides a positive experience and can improve your medical outcome.