- Music can redirect people's thoughts and feelings when they are anxious or worried.
- Music allows people to explore their feelings and emotions where sometimes words fall short.
- Music can take people back to times and places that they remember fondly.
Listening to music can instill calmness and relaxation, as indicated by reduced cortisol levels and lowered heart rate (de Witte et al., 2020). A large-scale review of 400 studies showed that playing and listening to music also improves the body’s immune system, reduces stress, and promotes social bonding (Levitin, 2013).
Music use was a crucial tool during the lockdowns caused by COVID-19. Music may have provided listeners with a way to feel connected to others and feelings of support or relief. Listening to relaxing music can facilitate a switch from the “flight-or-fight” to recovery responses by lowering blood pressure and heart rate (Madey and VonDras, 2021).
The following are ways that music can help you manage your mood.
1. Musical pleasure
The key reason people listen to music lies in the reward center of the brain. Listening to pleasurable music activates areas of the reward system. The same brain-chemical system that enables feelings of pleasure from sex, addictive drugs, money, and food is also critical to experiencing musical pleasure. This rewarding effect makes music universally valued. Musical pleasure arises when a pattern is interrupted in some way. Listeners experience strong emotions when something unexpected happens.
2. Music as a catharsis
Music can help channel one’s frustration or purge negative emotions such as anger, grief, or frustration in a harmless way. For example, when we listen to sad music (or watch a sad film), we are disconnected from any real threat or danger that the music (or movie) represents. When we cry at the beauty of sad music, we experience a profound aspect of our emotional selves.
3. "Feeling" the music
Being in sync with music is a source of pleasure. It is no accident that dance music makes people happy because it is easy to attune to its rhythmic pattern. Our internal rhythms (e.g., heart rate) speed up or slow down to become one with the music. Music with a slow steady rhythm, such as meditative music, is shown to reduce stress by altering inherent body rhythms, such as heart rate, resulting in greater relaxation. Simple music at a soft listening level is psychologically soothing.
4. Moving in rhythm with others creates social bonds
Music is a tool that provides a sense of comfort and social connection among people. How we feel about another person is conveyed by rhythm. Moving in synchrony positively affects how we feel about each other. Line dancing, choir singing or simply tapping our fingers in sync promotes a greater sense of closeness and creates a greater sense of well-being. This explains why music often plays such an important role in a romantic evening with a loved one.
5. Music as a best friend
The listeners enjoy the mere presence of an imaginary person represented by the music who is in the same mood can help to cope with one’s feelings. For example, listening to comforting music, when we feel distressed or lonely, can provide mood repair and a sense of connection (Schäfer et al., 2020). Comforting music can be used as a temporary substitute for social interaction and reduce feelings of loneliness. Further, lyrics that resonate with the listener’s personal experience can give voice to feelings or experiences that one might not be able to express oneself.
6. Music brings up memories
Music is one of the strongest means for stirring feelings of nostalgia. Listening to music that was played a lot during significant life events (e.g., Christmas songs or wedding songs) can trigger a deeply nostalgic emotional experience. The feeling is not the music, but in what it reminds us. We enjoy the sweetness of these memories via vivid imaginations (Garrido & Davidson, 2019).
In sum, music is a powerful mood regulator that can be used for relaxation and mood management. Listening to music alters mood via distraction and shifting thought patterns. Distraction is an effective mood repair strategy. Thus, situations that induce anxiety, like exams, dental offices, or work contexts could benefit from the presence of music.
Chanda ML., Levitin DJ. (2013), The neurochemistry of music. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 17: 179-93.
Madey, S.F. & VonDras, D.D. (2021), Music, Wellness, and Aging: Defining, Directing, and Celebrating Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Garrido, S., & Davidson, J. W. (2019). Music, nostalgia