Music for self-care

Music is almost unmatched in its ability to stimulate the brain. Research has shown that listening to music can reduce blood pressure, anxiety and pain, while improving memory, sleep quality, and mental health. All that through the power of music.

As internationally known cellist Johanne Perron puts it, music is the only way to communicate with her mother that suffers from dementia. “I’ve seen music work miracles,” says Perron. “Mom doesn’t speak, but she can sing a song and we can re-engage her. And, when my husband’s mom was dying, he played his cello and she woke up and recognized everyone. It was a wonderful moment.”

Music mood

Photo courtesy of Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Jennifer Buchanan, a leading expert on music therapy, echoes the message from Perron’s story. “I’ve witnessed that when you find the right music at the right time in the right way, a client starts feeling the desired state they want to feel, less anxious, less stressed, and more creative. Music therapy interventions come in many forms, and are individualized, for some it’s drumming, for others it’s singing or songwriting.”

music setting the mood

“Music affects people on a cellular level,” says Dr. Andrew Bulloch, PhD, professor in the departments of community health sciencesphysiology and pharmacology and psychiatry, member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, and O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) and the education director of the Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research and Education. “There’s a wealth of good evidence that music is therapeutic for mood, anxiety and psychotic disorders.”

Buchanan suggests that using music more intentionally is something we can all benefit from.

“It’s one thing to turn music on in your house and set a mood. But I encourage people to experience music on a deeper level. Purposefully pick a piece of music that soothes you and sit down and listen to it with intent. It’s an excellent method of self-care.”

The soundtrack to our mood

Unlike other forms of entertainment like film or even sports that demand attention and provide the ability to escape our reality, music can be experienced to enrich our thoughts, or to help us contextualize what we’re going through.

The premise of ‘intentionally’ using music as a means of self-care is quite interesting. It suggests that, regardless of what you’re going through or experiencing that day, that selecting a piece of music purposely can help restore a desired mental state. So often we select music as a reflection of what we are feeling. A melancholy acoustic song when we’re feeling down or stressed, or an upbeat electronic mix when we’re trying to get ourselves amped up. But what if, instead, music could have the opposite effect? That selecting a playlist could help you achieve a mood you weren’t previously in. Would this change how you listen to music?

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