Throughout history, rhythm, music, and song have been used as a way to focus the mind, to heal the body, and to strengthen the spirit. Not surprisingly, the core features of music are rhythm, harmony, resonance, synchrony, and dissonance, and those are the same processes the brain uses to coordinate its activities and synchronize complex behaviors.
Most of us have, at times, been stuck in traffic next to someone who is blaring tunes out of his vehicle so loud it sounds like a 747 taking off right next to you. If you don’t like what you hear, you can’t wait for the light to turn green. If you like it, you sometimes wish you could sit there for just a while longer. These feelings bubble up in an instant.
Most of us also experience times in our lives when we feel like choosing not to listen to a specific type of music (or song) – because it sparks the wrong emotions. You might feel this way if you were just involved in a breakup. Anything – anything at all – that is even remotely romantic is suddenly off your playlist.
A friend of mine recently commented that she was in a coffee shop when a song she used to play with her partner of several years came on. She immediately felt depressed and tears began to roll. Ironically, she loved that song, and it had made her feel so good so many times before – when her relationship was in top shape. But now, it was different. It only made her sad.
This is a good example of how you need to restrict yourself, sometimes, from certain music—especially when you are in a susceptible mindset – as in result of a breakup.
Instead, try being more gentle to yourself by not taking your mind to these musical memories.
Here’s an out of the ordinary remedy mentioned in my book, Your Playlist Can Change Your Life. What my co-authors and I recommend as an additional source to soothe your emotions during such vulnerable times are funny children's songs. Seriously. Remember songs like Bingo (Bingo was his name-O), Old McDonald, and The Ants Came Marching? Get yourself a CD with funny music and lyrics, especially when the content is about different animals and their sounds, and practice singing along with them. This can work!
As for my friend (above), interestingly, she admitted to hearing the same song on the radio, on the way home one day, months later and being able to appreciate its deep and beautiful effects again—without any of the formerly painful emotional pull.
Another individual experienced things similarly and found a way to reverse his emotions. He was feeling so lousy after a breakup that he stopped going to his night classes, which he needed to get out of a job that for him had become a major dead-end. Just the thought of getting into a new career had rinsed away heaps of stress. But now he felt he was back-peddling.
He stopped going out for recreation, even started taking sick days at work. He found that listening to any kind of music that reminded him of his partner in any way brought him down even more. So he started thinking about a time in his life when he felt tremendously carefree, happy, and excited to head out into the day.
For him, this was a time when he used to hang out with his hockey buddies in college. He remembered a song they used to blast, on their way to games. The song was “Eye of the Tiger,” by Survivor. He – they – loved that song and the way it pumped them up. They sort of bonded around that song. So he started playing it now and it worked. In fact, it put him into the same kind of good mood it used to send him and his teammates before the games. He discovered that every time he played the song now, his mind would stop going to (obsessing on) his relationship. He put the song on his iPod and started playing it several times a day, especially when he could feel himself reminiscing about his partner. This gave him some instant relief and he started feeling better and better with each day. By the beginning of the next week, he felt good enough to return to college night classes. For the next month or so, whenever he felt his mind de-railing and being pulled into the emotional quicksand of his breakup, he’d play his song. This helped get him back “on track” and soothe him through this delicate phase of his broken heart.
Sometimes broken heartedness may leave you feel empty. This results, for some, in self-destructive behaviors that can make you feel high, promoting the release of endorphins and making you feel excited and that life is good. At times, medications are prescribed in such situations. But it is possible to pull yourself out of these situations using sound, as my co-authors and I mention in PLAYLIST. You can, for example, activate these neurochemicals by using you’re your favorite tunes to increase your brain rhythms and by playing some stimulating, very fast songs, the type you hear in dance clubs. Have you seen how some people look like they are high when they listen to certain songs or sing them, or even hum them, swaying to back and forth with their eyes lost in a reverie, almost in a trance? You can learn to use music intentionally to achieve this heightened state of mental arousal too, without the need for extra recreational substances or self-destructive behaviors. At best, stimulating your brain’s emotional systems might be the simplest way for you to redirect negative thoughts and feelings and prevent self-destructive behaviors. Of course, in all of these instances, balance is key!
Identify what you want to change and look through your musical library to find songs that have produced the desired effect on you before. Try to match them up with your current goal of improving how you feel and who it is you want to be.
Use the power of upbeat songs you associate with positive memories, preferably from your more distant past when you felt safe, on top of your game, and happy. Avoid songs that even remotely pull you into the emotions of your breakup. Train your brain out of its funk by listening often and with intent.
Remember songs can work to the extent to which you personally like them. So, although the above playlist offers up an example of how someone might organize songs to help them through emotionally vulnerable times, you should always use those that appeal to you and your tastes.
Sample Playlist #1
Eye of the Tiger, Survivor
No Way Back, Foo Fighters
The Power, Snap
Baba O’Riley, The Who
Good Vibrations, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch
Sample Playlist #2
Sonata for Two Pianos in D, K. 448, Wolfgang Mozart Canon in D Major
Bolero, Maurice Ravel
Carmina Burana, Carl Orff
Ode to Joy, Beethoven
Fight Song, University of Michigan
Sample Playlist #3
Bingo (Bingo was his name-o, children's song)
Old McDonald (children's song)
Down by the Bay (children’s song)