10 ways music can boost your well-being

Pop on the headphones to reduce stress and improve your mood.
© 2013 Weider Publications // © 2013 Weider Publications

For decades, experts have considered music a factor in improving one’s health. An often-documented example is the study by French researcher Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis involving the “Mozart effect,” in which the composer’s "Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major K. 448" was found to improve the brain’s functioning.

Although the Mozart effect has been disputed by experts, “music is very primal to all of our experience,” notes Julie Jaffee Nagel, Ph.D., author of the book Melodies of the Mind. “You don’t have to be a professional musician to feel the power of music,” she says.

Music can make people feel centered and reduce anxiety and depression, says Shara Sand, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at LaGuardia Community College, in Long Island City, New York. “I believe that music is healing because there’s something about the vibrational properties that restore a certain kind of balance.”

1 of 12 Man relaxing on lawn with old-fashioned radio (Jupiterimages/Getty Images)

Change your mood

“It’s possible to shift or change one’s mood based on the music one listens to,” says Sand. Don’t make too dramatic a shift in tempo from the mood you’re in, she advises. “If you’re really hyped up and want to relax, you can’t put on something twice as slow as you are because it won’t feel good.”

Altering a mood using music is like tapering off drugs, she says. But when you’re down, listening to a song called “Happy” by Pharrell Williams or the Rolling Stones should flip the switch to put you in a better state of mind. When you change your mood, the body goes through a process called entrainment, which involves matching the rhythm of music to our internal rhythm, or heartbeat.

More: What makes people happy? Genes—and gender—may play a role.

2 of 12 Man smiling while listening to music (Maskot/Getty Images)

Feel connected

When you’re feeling isolated or just suffered a breakup, listening to music can help you to work through those feelings and feel connected to something outside of yourself. “Sometimes music helps people to feel connected, particularly when you’re feeling alienated or isolated,” says Sand. The lyrics in songs can hit home and allow people to feel like an artist relates to your situation.

3 of 12 Man listening to music (Betsie Van Der Meer/Getty Images)

Form a biographical marker

Songs can help you recall certain people, places and special times in your life. “Music can really stimulate memories,” says Sand. “It allows you to connect and remember things, and all memories are not bad.” Music can also help you remember a lost loved one if you listen to music the person enjoyed listening to, she says.

More: 5 ways to improve your memory

4 of 12 People dancing to music in club (Mads Perch/Getty Images)

Overcome insomnia

Light music can be a way to help you fall asleep if you’re suffering from insomnia. Music proved to be an effective method for helping adults to catch some zzz's, according to a study published in the journal Holistic Nursing Practice. For going to sleep, you’ll want to choose ballads, light piano tunes or classical music, says Sand.

More: 10 best ways to get better sleep

5 of 12 Man resting on couch (Eric Audras/Getty Images)

Reduce stress

“Listening to and playing music can lower amounts of the cortisol stress hormone,” notes Nagel. Music therapy can help treat depression, agitation and anxiety, according to a report published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry. Create playlists that help you work off stress, whether at the gym, on the train or even at work.

More: Music therapy for pain relief

6 of 12 Man listening to music (Maskot/Getty Images)

Increase the focus of your workout

Listening to music during a workout brings that extra motivation needed to get through a grueling session on the cross-trainer or treadmill. It could also motivate you to lift that extra weight. “It can keep you going depending on what you like to listen to,” says Nagel. “Certain kinds of beats, certain kinds of rhythms, can increase energy and endurance, and increase your focus.”

More: The right music makes workouts easier.

7 of 12 Man working out in gym (Gary Burchell/Getty Images)

Work through feelings

We often block out troubling thoughts or situations we’d rather not deal with. “Music can help you work through some problems, issues or things you’re thinking about just by listening to it,” says Nagel.

“People avoid processing emotions. When you do process it, a huge weight is taken off.” After dealing with a troublesome issue by listening to music, “people feel tremendous relief, and that frees up a whole other level of energy,” she says.

More: 10 ways to boost your energy

8 of 12 Man listening to music with headphones (Atsushi Yamada/Getty Images)

Improve your brain chemistry

Studies show that listening to music can increase the amount of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates mood, appetite and sleep. Listening to pleasant music resulted in a boost in serotonin levels in platelets, according to a 2000 study published in the European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience.

More: Meditation strengthens the brain.

9 of 12 Man at piano (Gary Burchell/Getty Images)

Sharpen the senses

Long-term music training can also improve how the nervous system integrates all senses, especially hearing and touch, according to research by Julie Roy at the University of Montreal, presented in November 2013. People with long-term musical training were better able to separate information gained from hearing and touch, the study finds. Playing a musical instrument can improve multisensory processing, according to the study.

More: Loud music alters the taste of alcohol.

10 of 12 Man smiling with headphones (Tara Moore/Getty Images)