The Power of Music to Tune Up Your Life
Updated: Sep 16, 2022
With so many crises hitting us one after another recently, it can be easy to lose sight of how to feel good. As we strive to manage a seeming onslaught of new challenges, recreational pursuits just slip off the agenda. Here we talk about the power of music to tune up your life, to remind you what you love doing and to connect you with more positive emotions
Keeping a focus on things we love doing alongside the things we need to do helps us to maintain positivity and connection, provides a source of hope and optimism and calms our stress response. For many of us, music plays a key role in helping us to do this. Whether we like to listen, dance, sing or create, music can have a self-actualising effect, reminding us of what we love and generating positive emotions.
In a review of 23 studies, engaging in dance was found to improve self-reported quality of life, wellbeing and positive mood, whilst reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. And social dancers were found to experience a whole host of social, psychological and health benefits, including improved wellbeing and a sense of youthfulness. Singing, dancing and drumming, activities in which we move our bodies to music, have been found to release endorphins into the blood, reducing symptoms of pain and lifting our mood.
We all know it feels good to sing. We often can’t help ourselves humming a tune, singing along to the radio, on our own, in the car, taking a bath or with friends. The benefits of singing have long been documented, showing not only that singing can improve wellbeing but may also help to ward off illness.
In a study of 169 participants, researchers found that choral singing provided benefits across multiple domains including self-reported improvements in social, physiological, emotional and cognitive functioning. Singing has been found to reduce symptoms of stress by reducing cortisol levels in the blood. It has also been found to raise the blood antibody, Immunoglobulin A, leading to an improved immune response.
Singing often requires us to breathe in a certain way, taking a deeper breath and exhaling more slowly for certain songs or phrases. Like breathwork exercises in yoga, songs that require sustained breathing tone in the lungs reduce stress and increase the flow of oxygen to all parts of the body.
Singing together in groups has historically been a great source of comfort and solace at times of hardship. During the early stages of the pandemic, we heard many reports of people finding novel ways to join together to sing. People in Denmark gathered around the television each morning to join in a singing session, choirs found ways to practice online and many videos on social media encouraged us to join a singing group or participate virtually. Originating during WW2, this type of shared activity brings people together during times of uncertainty or isolation to provide a sense of community and support. Connecting socially with others in this way releases oxytocin into the blood, helping to calm sympathetic nervous system arousal and generating feelings of belonging, emotional safety and calm.
Playing or listening to music has also been found to reduce stress and enhance feelings of wellbeing. Linked with the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with reward and pleasure, we may feel a tingle of excitement, or experience goosebumps when listening to a piece of music we love. We might also notice a lift in our mood or energy levels.
Music is hugely beneficial to our self-identity, too, evoking memories and strong associations with our life experiences, and helping to connect us with other people. In older adults, music has been found to play an important role in helping people manage the challenges of later life, enhancing feelings of competency and independence.
The power of music to tune up your life is something not to be overlooked. Evidence suggests that whether you are young or old, able-bodied or disabled, healthy or facing multiple health challenges, engaging in a creative pursuit such as playing music, writing songs or dancing, will help to build your resilience.