Music as Medicine

Your Favorite Tunes Improve Your Well-Being

Guilty Pleasures

I think of myself as a “wellness enthusiast.” When I fire up my phone in the morning, I visit my faithful wellness and mind-body blogs to get the most up-to-date health information. All of this before I write in my journal, dive into emails, and tackle my to-do list for the day.

Inevitably I will come across an interview of a celebrity, who is reliably asked to confess a “guilty pleasure.” Sometimes it’s a square of 70% or higher dark chocolate or a Netflix binge. One time, someone even said it was gluten-free quinoa cauliflower pizza crust.

It sounds delicious, actually. But a guilty pleasure? Really?

I’m not a celebrity. But as a wellness professional and voracious consumer of health-related media, I got to thinking about one of my own pleasures that I think, in the wellness world, would render me truly guilty. I am a lover of music: classical music, classic and folk-rock, and soundscapes, and I adore jazz.

But I must confess, as a child of the ’80s, heavy metal is one of my guilty pleasures. As it did for the woman in my clinic, listening to the music of my childhood feels like lifting a weight off my shoulders and entices me to take a break from everyday stress.

So, if you are looking for new ways to alleviate stress and give yourself a little lift, consider consciously adding music to your health care regimen. Heavy metal may not be your cup of tea, but the music of your youth could be just the thing you need.

How Music Can Help You

Here are three ways your favourite music can coax you back into balance:

  1. Music brings you back to your roots.

We wear many hats as we move through life. But beneath all the veneers we put on to fulfil our many responsibilities lies the fundamental essence of who you are. And touching base with that “original you” is a key part of feeling settled and content. For some people, nature can allow for that kind of steadiness. For others, it’s art, yoga, making things with their hands, hiking, or swimming.

I would argue that when you listen to the music of your childhood, you can feel grounded, and transported back in time. It can help you to recall the comfort of a childhood home, neighborhood, or community.

When I listen to heavy metal, I feel the essential part of myself that responds to a strong beat. Even on the coldest northeastern days, certain bands conjure the feeling of the warm desert where I grew up. There are inevitably times when the needs and demands of my work can reach such a pace I just need some peace and quiet. But sometimes a little Quiet Riot does the trick.

  1. Music makes you feel closer to people you care about.

I was into Indian music as a kid. And then Michael Jackson, Paula Abdul, Boy George, Beyonce—pretty much anything I hear.

There are certainly times when the best way for me to combat stress is a quiet yoga practice or some peppermint tea in my favourite mug. But there are also times when the perfect antidote is to go for a walk and pound the streets to Winger.

My colleague was not exactly chatty, and he largely kept his distance from me. But one day he surprised me by inviting me into his room. He had laid out some cassette tapes near his stereo and pressed play. “This is Van Halen,” he said. The next tape was Rush, and on it went. I was surprised as I have never seen him like this and we always listen to Korean songs in the office and company. I’m certain I still have most of the album memorized.

Even at a young age, my brother must have thought it his responsibility to open up a new world to me. So many bands now remind me of the days when he drove me around town to my various activities, teaching me to use the stick shift with my left hand.

I also reflect on early friendships and different experiences attached to music. Even though I may not be in contact with many old friends from my past, the music reminds me of them and brings me comfort.

  1. Music triggers the mind-body connection.

Often when we are running errands, answering emails, surfing the web, or watching television mindlessly, we are separated from our mind-body connection. We are likely to eat without consideration of what we are hungry for (or if we’re hungry at all!). We don’t pay attention to the body’s needs for a stretch, increased activity, or water.

One of the first songs I ever learned to play on an instrument was the piano solo from Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home.” Every time I think about it, my fingers automatically tap out the notes, my feet begin to keep the rhythm, and my head clears of other thoughts. It gives me a welcome reprieve from whatever I am working on. Sometimes, just for a treat, I will pull the song up on my phone and give it a listen.

Think of one of your favourite songs. You may find yourself tapping your fingers or toes to the beat, or altering your breathing as you sing the song in your head. At that moment, your mind and body connect. You are focused on one memory that brings you comfort. You may decide to linger with that song for a while, or the moment could be fleeting. Either way, just by turning your attention to a song you enjoy, you have cleared your mind of stressful triggers and given yourself a break.

Heavy Metal Health

There is mounting evidence for the soothing effects of all types of music on heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, and other indicators of health. It is encouraging to learn that, while music can be purely entertaining, it can also be added to your holistic wellness toolkit, especially if you enjoy music in general.

But while you’re at it, it couldn’t hurt to think back to the music of your childhood and take a listen. Like my guilty pleasure of heavy metal, it may not be exactly what researchers recommend to improve your health. But you may be surprised by how good you feel when you hear the familiar opening chords of the song you chose.

There are certainly times when the best way for me to combat stress is a quiet yoga practice or some peppermint tea in my favourite mug. But there are also times when the perfect antidote is to go for a walk and pound the busy streets of Seoul for some wind.