The Power of Music

Music is a core part of all of humanity. Every culture across the globe has some kind of music. All of humanity: we sing and we dance and we make musical instruments. We do this by ourselves. We do this as groups. We do this in times of celebration. We do this in times of stress. We have been making music for as long as we have been documenting history and evidence suggests that we have been doing the making of music before we have been writing. So this suggests that there’s something really essential, profound and powerful about music, which is why so many people research it, because we ask this question of “why music?” What is it about music, that’s so important that every human being on the planet, engages with music, on some level? Whether you are a performer or you’re just somebody who is listening. Whether you’re singing in the shower or tapping on the table to a song in your head. We all engage in the creation and listening and sharing of music. Why is that?

And while the answer is was that we really don’t know, there’s some really fascinating things that we do know about music that I think makes it super important for us with chronic illness, to make music a bigger part of our lives because research shows pretty solidly that music makes us more resilient. Now that doesn’t mean that music is going to magically cure us of our illnesses or make our symptoms go away. Know that music isn’t that magical. But what it does mean is that by having more resilience we will be better psychologically equipped to deal with the stressors that our chronic illness puts upon us so that we can better handle all of the stuff that comes with chronic illness, so that we can have more happiness and a better sense of well being in our lives; that is the gift of resilience.

And the really cool thing? Music is free and assessable to everyone. This is something that anybody can do without paying a dime because it doesn’t matter how good you are at music. You can suck at music, you can sing in the shower totally off key without any sense of rhythm and still get the clinical benefit because there’s something about just engaging with the process of music that changes the way our brains function in fundamentally important ways. It’s something that we as patients and we as people with chronic illness can use to take control and something that we can do to make our lives better, by building up that ever essential resilience because the more resilient we are, the better we’re going to experience our lives, even if our symptoms aren’t getting better.

What are some things that music can do for us? Research shows that music can improve cognitive performance. When you have background music, or it’s just kind of playing around you, and you’re focusing on doing something else. Research shows that actually improves our cognitive performance. One of the things that we struggle with frequently is something that people with chronic illness, usually referred to as brain fog, and it can be a very frustrating symptom to feel like your brain isn’t doing what it always was able to do and you feel like you can’t process information as well. So believe it or not, one simple intervention that you can put into place for yourself is to put some background music on in your life, and listen to that music while you do other things. So the thing is that this music has to have some traits to be helpful in this way: it needs to be music that does not pull your attention. So it needs to be music that you’re fairly familiar with and relaxed with that you enjoy, but can fade into the background and doesn’t snag and pull at your attention, it isn’t the kind of song that you want to sing to. It’s the kind of song that just kind of fades away. I think of it as elevator music, it’s there and you can hear it, but you’re not really paying attention to it either. This is the kind of music that is actually shown to improve our ability to cognitively perform, and it’s super easy to just implement this in our lives so that we can just put on some quiet music, and get about our thing.

Another thing that music is really good for is reducing stress, and I’m sure that all of you agree with me is that there is an abundance of stress in your life when you have chronic illness. My personal theory as to why music helps us deal with stress is because it helps us process, our emotions. Emotions can often be difficult to process with words and language, it can be very difficult to put it into a concrete form and say, I am feeling this and I am thinking this about how I am feeling. And when we’re listening to songs that emotionally resonate with us, and the lyrics are saying things that, yeah, that’s how I’m feeling right now, it can help us work through that emotional state and it can help us reduce our stress by processing those emotions because you have to give your emotion space and time to be process in order for them to be able to be moved past you know you can’t move around your emotions you have to go through them. You have to feel them, you have be part of them for a while before they’ll saunter off and let something else take the stage. So music helps us do that so it helps us reduce and manage our stress by helping us processor our emotions.

There’s some research to show that music can actually help you eat less, listening to really super mellow low energy calming music has been shown to reduce our energy states, and reduce our drive for food. One study showed that people who were in environments with soft music and low lights, ate about 18% less food than the people who ate in environments without music, and had bright lights on. So, by making our environment relaxed and a low energy state, we can turn down the body’s drive for food so if you’re looking for a weight loss strategy, this this is something that you can do.

There’s not really been any research to show whether or not the reverse is true, but it would be interesting to try. If low energy and mellow music can turn down the appetite, maybe high energy music, and stimulating environments can increase our aperture appetite so I don’t know. Just a thought. It’s kind of interesting.

So, music has been shown to improve our memory states, and this kind of goes with it improves our overall cognitive function, but when we’re listening to music while we’re studying or learning, we actually perform better in retaining that information and again it’s got to be the kind of music that is positive, that we enjoy it, but doesn’t pull our attention away from the task at hand so it’s got to be kind of that elevator music. So if it’s something that you’re trying to learn or understand or you’re researching your chronic illness, symptoms or maybe looking into a another potential treatment option then putting on some relaxing positive non distracting tunes in the background while you do that task might help you better absorb and retain that information.

One that I find really fascinating is that music has been shown to help us manage our pain, both physical and emotional pain, which is really fascinating because music is pretty low risk. I mean, if you think about some of our other pain management options and some of the crazy things that we do to try to not hurt so much, and not be so miserable every day of our lives, this one comes with a really low price tag compared to most everything else that we try in our life. There was a really good piece of research with fibromyalgia patients that found that those who listened to music for just an hour a day, experienced a significant reduction in pain compared to those that were in the control group. So this is really profound stuff, like, we can just put on music and that is useful to our chronic illness. I would definitely encourage you all to put your on your tunes and jam out your songs, because this is some really, really amazing stuff. There was research in 2015 that was looking at a review of a bunch of other research done on pain and the effects that music had on pain management, and this is called a meta analysis, and it found that patients who listened to music before, during, or after surgery, experienced less pain and anxiety than those people that didn’t listen to music, I mean this is fascinating stuff.

We don’t know why this works and we don’t know what music does to our brain that makes this work, but if you think about socially what we’ve done with music, it kind of makes sense because we use music in some of the most difficult times of human history. If you will look at the Holocaust, people were performing music and using music as a way to cope with their suffering, while they were in these very awful concentration camps, and somehow music helped them get through that. Music was definitely very strongly used by individuals who were slaves in America, and they used music to help them cope with their awful living situation of being owned and being forced into awful working and living situations. So, historically, we kind of already intuitively know that music helps us get through really difficult emotional times, that somehow music helps us cope with suffering.

Music can also help you sleep better. Insomnia is a really serious problem, it affects people of all ages, all races and all genders. It’s a really problematic disorder to treat, but research showing that listening to quiet, relaxing classical music can be very effective in facilitating better sleep. And again, What a really low risk thing to try. Because, what do you have to lose? I mean one study looked at people who were listening to classical music, an audio book or nothing, while they were going to bed. And it found that participants who were listening to music had significantly better sleep quality than those who had listened to either on audio book, or who were listening to nothing.

Music can improve our motivation and we’ve all felt this. You’ve listened to what pep bands and cheerleaders are doing and you know we use music all the time to rally our teams so that they’ll perform better. And they’ll be motivated to play a game really hard and you have songs like “Eye of the Tiger” and “We Will Rock You” that are really classic songs that are just known to energize and motivate you and make you want to go out there and kick some butt. We don’t really know why music does this but it absolutely can change our emotional state, it can make us feel more connected to the group as a whole, and it can make us feel more like we’re capable of achieving the tasks ahead of us.

Mood is definitely affected by music, I think that everybody has experienced this in their lives; you listen to a really sad song and you cry or you listen to a song and it just, it makes you feel more energized or it makes you feel happier. I think everyone has experienced this at some point in their life, the way that music changes and affects our mood. We can use that to our benefit when we have chronic illness. We can surround ourselves with music therapy, and we can be playing songs that give us an uplifted feeling, a more energized feeling, more motivated feeling. But we can also use music to help us process difficult emotions. And I don’t know about anybody else but I can really remember the times when I was an adolescent full of like all kinds of angst and weird emotional upheaval roller coaster crap that just kind of always comes with adolescence. I can really remember times that I just listened to songs that matched how I was feeling. And instead of trying to force myself to feel something different, I would just groove into that song, and allow myself to fully process what I was feeling whether or not it was anger or sadness or happiness, it didn’t matter, it somehow, helped me process what I was feeling and move through that emotion and get on to the other side so that I could get through to the next thing, and we can still do that even though we’re adults. It isn’t just for kids and adolescents.

Music, absolutely can help affect your mood, which means that it can help you with things like depression, it can help you with anxiety. It can help you with any mood state that you’re struggling with. If you’re someone like me and frequently has difficulty with anger management issues, then you can use music to help calm and soothe and and be like a bomb on those raw edges you music is very therapeutic for our emotional states in both helping us process it, and helping to shift gears into a different emotional state.

So overall, music is this really amazing tool that we have at our disposal all the time, and it’s completely free, and there are no known side effects to listening to music, so what’s the harm to go out there and try it? So go singing badly in the shower. Rock your jam out on the car, or just sit on your couch wail out your woes because hey, what does it hurt to try? You never know, music might be that thing that just helps you get through the day today and get into your day tomorrow.

Here’s some research you read about how cool music is:

https://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/11/music

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30033623/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27524661/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29144545/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8273948/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7308378/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6373483/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6517146/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7178871/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6820536/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8079817/

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