by: Doa Jamal, Francis College of Engineering Well-being Leader

Many of us consider music to be a coping mechanism or a way to temporarily escape reality. We may use music as a way to relax, and we find this to be a natural response. When you ask several people what they do to relax, many of them will say “listen to music”. It turns out, there is a scientific reason for why this is so. Music has positive effects on our health and wellbeing. According to John Hopkins Medicine, “Research has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory (1)”.

Music can positively affect mental health. Research has found that listening to music can reduce stress by triggering biochemical stress reducers, as well as decrease cortisol (stress hormone) levels and increase serotonin, endorphin, and dopamine levels (chemicals that make you happy) in the blood (2). Music can help with depression in that listening to certain songs, such as upbeat songs or encouraging songs, can make you feel better. In general, listening to music that you like will make you feel happier. 

It has been discovered that music can affect the heart, blood pressure, and even breathing. Research found that when music is played, blood flows easier, blood pressure is lower, and the heart rate is reduced (2). Scientists traced music-induced physical/physiological changes to a part in the brain which is responsible for the unconscious regulation of body functions. Music therapy has become more common over the years. One study looked at the effects of music interventions on coronary heart disease patients. It found that “listening to relaxing music not only reduced heart and respiration rates but also oxygen demand of the heart in patients who have had a heart attack.” This also helps to reduce preoperative anxiety, reduce postoperative stress, and improve surgery outcomes for cardiac patients (3). 

Another way that music therapy is used is to reduce and manage pain. The Northshore University Health system states that “music can meaningfully reduce the perceived intensity of pain,  especially in geriatric care, intensive care or palliative medicine” (2). This is partially explained by the fact that music decreases stress levels and higher levels of stress increase pain. Additionally, music signals enter the brain and compete with the pain signals and so the brain focuses less on the pain (a positive form of using music as a distraction).

Overall, music has many beneficial health effects. It reduces stress and sadness, it relaxes your body which slows down your heart and lowers your blood pressure, and it can relieve and help manage pain. These, of course, are only some of the positive effects that music has. As mentioned in the John Hopkins Medicine article, music also affects sleep quality, mental alertness, memory, and more! It’s starting to make more sense why everyone always has earbuds in or headphones on.