There’s way more to wellness than just eating clean, so we’re taking a holistic approach to restoring our spaces, minds, bodies, and hearts in small but powerful ways. Introducing The RE:SET Challenge—a 21-day plan to a healthier and happier you. Click here for the full list. Next up, how music affects mood – and the ways we can intentionally use it to change our emotions.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell you that music is one of the most engaging, enjoyable, moving, and satisfying human activities. But did you know that listening to music fundamentally changes the brain? Research proves that music can be an incredibly effective tool for our health and wellbeing – particularly during high anxiety times. For Day 14 in The RE:SET Challenge, we tapped Jamie Pabst, founder of Spiritune, an app that brings together music therapy and neuroscience that enhances well-being and allows users to help reach the emotion they want to feel. She says:
“Music is one of the easiest ways to improve our lives. Our understanding of the links between music and the brain is complex, but the growing body of research makes it clear that music, particularly when administered appropriately, and even clinically, can produce powerful, even drug-like outcomes.
When you listen to music, your brain releases the “pleasure chemical” dopamine and other feel good hormones (sometimes even inducing the “chills,” scientifically referred to as frisson.) Because music also underlies the brain networks involving stress, it has the ability to significantly reduce stress and anxiety. This is why I’m such an advocate in using music for our mental health, because people need to hear this message about music’s influence on the brain. And people are ready to build it into their daily mental health habits!”
A lifelong obsession.
Jamie’s own fascination with the power of music began in the womb. Seriously. While pregnant with Jamie, her mother became deaf. “It was my mother’s sudden hearing loss that gave me a deep appreciation and awareness of our ability to hear sound and its importance to our health and quality of life,” says Jamie. “My enthusiasm around sound and health grew even stronger as my older sister pursued a degree in music therapy, and I learned how music can be used to treat neurological disorders.”
She personally discovered the therapeutic benefits of music during a stressful period working in the finance world in New York City. It was a constant struggle to manage stress and anxiety with her hectic work lifestyle. “There was no time for working out, a therapist was costly and seemed unnecessary, I didn’t know how to meditate or make time for it, and anxiety medication seemed like a bad route.
Then I discovered music as an accessible, friendly, and enjoyable tool that could immediately impact my emotional state and relieve my feelings of stress as they surfaced throughout my day.
However, the music I found wasn’t always reliable in helping me reach my desired emotional state, so I began DJ’ing on the side. I learned to experiment with sounds that could create therapeutic experiences for myself and others.”
As Jamie learned more about how music affects mood and emotions, she began collaborating with neuroscientists and music therapists to create science-driven music for mental health — and Spiritune was born. The company is on a mission to help a global stressed-out population find their zen through music, and she was kind enough to answer all my questions about how each of us can harness the power of sound to live healthier, happier lives.
How exactly does music affect my mood?
One of my favorite things about music is that you can feel its effects so quickly and effortlessly. You don’t even need to be paying attention to the music in order to find more focus in your work day, relaxation in the evening, or sleep at night. This is largely because our body is naturally wired to be one with music.
There’s a fascinating scientific principle called entrainment. Entrainment is basically our body’s natural ability to sync our internal rhythms (e.g. breath rate, heart rate) to the music.
Being in sync with the music not only brings pleasure, but it means we have the ability to control our fight or flight response (our body’s stress response that activates when we sense danger or feel stress) with the music we listen to. This is important in today’s stressful world, because our body’s fight or flight response is more active than it’s ever been before and that’s really bad for our health.
So, using the benefit of music’s neural entrainment powers helps us control our stress response, regulate our emotions and focus our attention more effortlessly. I love sharing this far and wide, because more people need to understand how essential music is to our health. And the more we use music mindfully, the happier and healthier we can be!
What type of music gives me energy or helps me feel calm?
There are many ways that music can be harnessed to change our moods (spoiler alert, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.) Finding the right music is dependent on a lot of variables, but here are a couple rules-of-thumb:
Tempo is how fast or slow the music is. Music with a fast tempo has been found to evoke positive emotions, such as happiness, excitement, and delight, while music with a slow tempo can evoke negative emotions, such as sadness, depression, and gravity. When you’re selecting your music to fit your emotional needs, make sure you prioritize music tempo. For example, if you want to get pumped up before a work meeting or find energy to push through your day, pick something anywhere from 110-130 bpm ideally (I’m loving “Body Pump” by Aluna to get pumped up lately) . If you want to calm down, pick a song anywhere from 60-100 bpm, but be careful that the song makes you feel calm and relaxed, not gloomy and sad (I’m loving “Trust” by Goldroom to get me in a smooth and chill mood.)
If you’re looking to find focus at work, make sure you find music that doesn’t have lyrics. As much as you’d like to pop in your headphones and jam to your favorite new pop artist, chances are that tune will only distract you away from your work and prevent you from finding a focused work flow. So make sure you’re looking for an acoustic, non-lyrical track to optimize your work flow (try “Gobi” by Tunnelvisions). If you’re just hanging out and having fun, by all means listen to your favorite jams that bring you joy, make you sing along or evoke a favorite memory or pastime (I’ve had the time of my life, anyone?)
How Can I Use Music to Affect My Mood and Emotions in Everyday Life?
Be strategic with time of day and transitions. I love listening to music when commuting to work to transition me from my sleepy, waking up brain to a positive, motivated mindset to kickstart my workday. As you think about how music affects mood, consider listening to music based on the activity you’re doing, or about to be doing.
If you’re waking up, make sure your morning music is gentle enough to ease you out of any lingering brain fog, otherwise it might make you feel alarmed or even anxious. Choose something melodic, but with enough energy to help you wake up and feel motivated as you begin to tackle your day’s activities (one of my go-to morning transition songs is “Begin” by Shallou ft Wales.)
If you’re looking to transition from work to evening, there’s music that can help you wind down and ease your monkey mind into a state of evening relaxation. For this, I like music that’s a bit more ambient, down tempo and melodic (but not too ambient to put you to sleep.) Bonus points for tuning in with the whole family to get everyone on the same emotional level at the end of the day. Music like “Levante” by Satin Jackets is great for transitioning from work to evening.
So… what music should I be listening to right now?
Since finding the right music can be complex and time consuming, we created Spiritune alongside leading experts in music therapy and neuroscience to help eliminate the guesswork and provide proprietary, science-informed music to help you reach your emotional goals. We designed the app to be super easy and intuitive to use, so that anyone can receive therapeutic relief at any point in their day with the press of a few buttons.
**CS readers can sign up for one month of Spiritune complimentary, so tune in and make mindful music listening a health habit! Download the app here and enter code CSRESET.