Looking to lift your spirits? Cranking up the tunes may help.
– KEYS SOULCARE
When life gets you down, there’s one easy fix to make the world seem a little brighter: Turn up the music.
For starters, music is a major mood booster because it activates the parts of the brain responsible for emotional regulation. It also releases feel-good neurotransmitters and lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Plus, a little dance break is never a bad thing.
The kind of song matters as does the context around it. Upbeat, happy tunes tend to make you feel, well, upbeat and happy. Sad and somber music can have the opposite effect, but it depends on the associations you have with it. For example, you might’ve been at a concert and experienced emotional contagion, which is when the emotions of the people around you influence your own. You can also experience emotional contagion from the songs themselves. (For example, heavy metal can get you in the mood to mosh.)
A song’s effect isn’t limited to melody or tempo. Lyrics can create an experience akin to guided meditation, taking you on a journey through mental imagery. Where it takes you — whether that’s a calm landscape, a sunny beach, or a spooky mansion during a thunderstorm — will change how you feel. But, what if that spooky mansion is your happy place? Maybe that song will be your feel-good tune. The emotions that music draws out depend on our personal memories and preferences. Music strikes chords on the complicated harp that is the human experience. And, at the end of the day, no two people have identical playlists.
“When we listen to our favorite songs, we have a tendency to remember how we felt the first time we heard it, our age at the time, what we were doing with our lives, and more,” says A.J. Marsden, an assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College in Leesburg, FL. “The more we listen to those songs, the stronger those memories and associations become.”
Okay, so it’s official: Music is good for the soul. But, why? Turns out a medley activates almost every region of the brain. During MRI scans, the brains of patients who are listening to music light up. One region that is especially sensitive is the amygdala, which is involved in the experience of emotions and dreams. It’s particularly responsive to joyful music, and plays a distinct role in that sudden swell of happiness you might feel when your favorite song comes on.
What else happens? The autonomic nervous system activates, as does the mesolimbic reward pathway, giving you that same feeling of fulfillment you might get when you eat your favorite food. This is triggered by the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure and motivation. At the same time, you might start feeling a sense of calm as your body’s cortisol levels begin to drop.
“Music activates the same networks as socializing does,” says Tasha Seiter, a marriage and family counselor in Fort Collins, CO. “Biologically, when listening to music, our brain looks like we are connecting with our loved ones.”
This makes it an incredibly useful tool for mood regulation during socially distant times — or, really, any time. Go ahead, press play on a good mood.
Which tunes do you have on your feel-good playlist? Let’s swap songs in the comments below.
Image Credit: Tony Gum