Have you ever stumbled upon a binaural beats playlist claiming it will help you focus or relax? Has your search for an anxiety cure landed you in the realm of Music Therapy? There are many types of wellness music, and all of them exist to help us in our daily struggles, but do they actually work? If you are a fan of music, you know that your favorite tune can take you to a place of happiness or relaxation, but is this backed by science, or is it just a fleeting human emotion?
Scientists have proven that music is a universal experience to which all humans react similarly. Other studies have found that music causes a dopamine release in our brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for how we feel pleasure, think and plan. Music Therapy has been successfully used to help mental health patients reduce obsessive thoughts and depression. Because music requires our sustained attention, it helps prevent our minds from wandering, which has been linked to unhappiness.
Does Wellness Music Make Us Feel Good?
While this may be left to subjective experience, there has been some science to back it up. Valorie Salimpoor is one of the most prominent researchers on how music affects our brain. Salimpoor created a study in which she was able to track dopamine in participants’ brains.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a large role in our reward systems, planning systems, and pleasure systems. When you complete a task or partake in something pleasurable, that feeling you get can be attributed to dopamine.
Salimpoor was able to prove that when participants listened to their favorite song, their brains were flooded with dopamine shortly after.
Are Binaural Beats Backed By Science?
Binaural Beats are a type of auditory illusion that can be experienced by anyone with headphones. Binaural Beats happen when two different signals are played into each ear separately.
For example, one ear receives a signal of 300hz, and the other ear receives a signal of 305hz. This difference the brain to perceive the resonance between these two signals, causing a perceived binaural beat of 5hz.
The right and left hemispheres of the brain have to work together to produce this 5hz tone, which causes synchronization of the brain. This has been shown to be essential for intelligent thinking, organized speech, and learning.
Another study found that Binaural Beats significantly reduced pre-operative anxiety in a sample of 100 people.
Music Therapy For Mental Health
There have been multiple studies displaying exciting results for music therapy in the mental health world. One study found that people who had recently listened to relaxing music were able to recover from stressors more quickly.
A 2015 study found that wellness music can help to reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety. This is because music has an effect on the structures of the brain that are responsible for these illnesses, such as the Amygdala, Hippocampus, and Nucleus Accumbens.
This study also found that music can help promote social cohesion and empathetic relationships. This can be easily witnessed at any concert or musical event. The music provides a sense of community and relation between the participants, bringing them closer and allowing them to recognize each other as human beings – something that is often forgot when walking down a crowded street.
One of the most promising aspects of music therapy for mental health is that it is a non-chemical solution. As we have discussed on theheartandbrain before, drugs for anxiety and depression often have the potential for addiction or unpleasant side effects. Since music therapy does not rely on a chemical solution, it can be seen as a safer and lighter alternative.
Music Therapy For Pain Management
One study has shown promising results in music therapy being used for pain management. The study followed 37 pain patients over one year. Each patient received a personalized music therapy program, and their reported pain levels were recorded. 68% of patients verbally reported relief. Even if this was due to the placebo effect, 68% is significant, and there should be more research on this subject.
Another study found that music therapy used in post-operative treatments increased a patient’s likelihood of experiencing pain relief by 70%. This study also found that patients exposed to music required 18.2% less morphine than unexposed patients. This is likely due to the relationship between pain and anxiety in humans.
Anxiety has been shown to increase our perception of pain, and music has the ability to reduce anxiety. Reduced anxiety from music therapy could mean less perceived pain.
The Link Between Music and Meditation
Meditation is a practice in which a person uses certain techniques to exercise their mindfulness or achieve a state of tranquility. One of the benefits of meditation is that it brings the individual closer to the present moment. Being present helps people avoid anxiety and depression.
Anxiety happens when people spend too much time worrying about the future, and depression can be caused when people spend too much time ruminating on the past.
Meditation has been scientifically proven to reduce cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone responsible for regulating stress.
Like meditation, music exists in the present moment. In order to properly experience music, the individual is brought into the present. This is why some people say music can take them to their “happy place” or “zone”.
It causes them to engage with each instrument, the emotion carried by melodies and harmonies, the energy produced by a beat.
Music As A “Social Glue”
Humans are a social sort. We get lonely, we crave interaction, we want to feel like we are part of something greater than ourselves. Many find that live music provides a social setting in which they feel fulfilled. Music is a universal experience, something we can participate in together. This allows us to feel like a part of a whole. One person in a crowd enjoying themselves, as others enjoy the same thing.
In early human history, individuals who strayed from the group had less chance of survival. Due to the forces of evolution, we are now compelled to stay a part of our social circles, as if it means life or death. Fear of separation from these circles can cause anxiety or depression.
Music has the power to bring people together. It gives people a common ground, it allows them to dance and laugh as a group. While this subject may be difficult to study in a scientific setting, it makes sense that music is useful in providing people with a social glue.
A Different Kind Of Wellness Music : Lo-Fi
Have you ever listened to a playlist titled something like “Lo-Fi beats to study/chill/relax to”? This genre uses old jazz samples, low-pass filtered sounds, and dusty drum beats to let the listener relax or be productive. As we discussed previously, music can bring a listener into the present moment by calling for them to give their sustained attention in order to absorb the full experience of a piece.
Lo-Fi is the opposite, Lo-Fi is music made to be heard, but not listened to. It is background music, meant to relax the listener, improving their cognition. While this isn’t a direct effect, any Lo-Fi listener will tell you they love the relaxing sense of well-being their favorite Lo-Fi playlist gives them.
What About Participating In Music?
One study found that participating in playing music, specifically the keyboard, was an effective method to reverse stress. They hypothesized that this is due to the active and present nature of playing an instrument.
It is hard to think about anything besides playing an instrument when you are playing one. Keeping the mind present reduces stress because your mind is taken away from thought, and that is where stress exists. In the study, playing an instrument proved to be more effective than relaxing activities such as reading and sitting.
As researchers like Valorie Salimpoor continue to prove the efficacy of music for wellness, the wellness music community grows. It is compelling to see such an ineffable experience be brought to science and proven. Music has helped me in more ways than I can count, and I know it can provide the same benefits for others. Whether it be stress, anxiety, or depression, there is a way that music can help. Most importantly, music is free, non-addictive, and will never go out of style!