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Why Music Is Good for the Mind (According to Science)

Why Music Is Good for the Mind (According to Science)

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Music is an ever-present part of the human experience. From your earliest memories of lullabies and sing-a-longs as soothing remedies to your teenage years as the backdrop of young love and rebellion, music forms who we are. 

When you reflect on these moments, it’s undeniable that music has a powerful emotional impact on us. It is a major reason why music therapy exists, and let’s not forget that researchers have found profound connections between music and mental well-being. 

With the ability to calm us, uplift us, and reset us, music offers several benefits for our mental well-being.  Below, we explore its effects and provide ways for how you can bring the power of music into your daily wellness routine.

The Effects of Music on the Brain

woman listening to music as she enjoys nature

Ever felt so pumped up when your song comes on that you feel like dancing? There’s a reason for that.

Quite literally, music lights up the brain. Rhythm, tonality, and lyrics work together to fire up neurological activity. Through brain scans, researchers have started mapping exactly how music elicits this neurological response, including how different genres play out through the various brain regions.

How can music help with your mental wellbeing? So far, scientists have discovered music has a few specific impacts. As detailed in an expansive review by Daniel Bowling, a lead researcher at Standford's Psychiatry and Behavioral Science department, there is a musical influence on mood, daily stress, and memory.

Mood Boost

The pleasure we get from listening to music is due to an associated release of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a critical role in our reward system. 

Just think of the last time you felt chills or got goosebumps from a particularly deep lyric or beat drop. This physical response stems from a surge of dopamine binding within a region of the brain most linked to our reward system, the nucleus accumbens.

Daily Stress Relief

Many studies have also found that music reduces cortisol levels, a hormone associated with stress. Of course, it depends on the kind of music and the individual, but as one of these studies notes, the most profound stress-relieving effects come when music is purposefully used for daily stress relief. There seem to be impacts on both subjective and physiological measures. 

Memory, Attention, and Learning

Why are there so many playlists for studying? As it turns out, certain types of music may enhance learning and memory performance. So far, researchers have primarily focused on Western classical music. Research suggests an association between listening to Mozart's music and improved spatial reasoning, dubbed the "Mozart effect." 

What Music Helps the Most?

Close up of vinyl record on stack of records collection

If Spotify Wraps has taught us anything over the last few years, music is a hyper-personal experience. There are hundreds of musical genres, thousands of subgenres, and millions of individual artists, all making up a universe of sound. What helps relax one person will be very different from what works for another.

While there is some evidence for instrumental and classical music’s influence on mental health, this doesn't mean that pop music or hip-hop won't have the same positive effects. It just means those haven't made it into the scientific literature yet.

What we do know is that music with uplifting lyrics and calming tones of voice seems to have a greater positive impact on mental health than negative and aggressive music. 

However, music preferences are just so subjective that it's hard to make any sweeping statements about how certain types of music are empirically better for your mental health than others. You've got to learn to follow the beat of your own drum.

How To Incorporate Music into Your Daily Wellness Ritual

man playing music with friends in his garage

It's safe to say we probably all need a little more music in our lives. For many of us, it may even be firmly established within the structure of our day. But what if there were a way to incorporate it more purposefully as a part of a daily mindfulness ritual?

1. Play an Instrument. Sing a Song.

woman smoking a blunt of weed and playing an instrument

Debra Sherpman, Ph.D., a Virginia-based nurse educator, summarized that "[m]usical training promotes cognitive function, mental health, and a connection to others." She reported that playing an instrument like the piano reduces stress levels, and other studies have found that singing has similarly soothing results.

So, if you haven’t touched your guitar in a while, it may be time to get back into your musical practice. And if you've never tickled the ivories or carried a tune, your wellness ritual might begin with lessons.

2. Musical Meditation 

Music has played a fundamental role in meditative practices for thousands of years, as seen in spiritual practices worldwide. But it's not just an ancient tradition. If you've ever stumbled into Spotify's massive meditation music subgenre, you'll know this practice is alive and well.

Adding soothing instrumental music to your daily meditation or yoga session can help calm the mind. Especially for those who struggle to turn off spiraling thoughts, music offers a focal point for your mind to return to each time. Breathe, lead yourself back to the music, and keep going. 

3. Paired with an End-of-Day Happy Hour

musician smoking some cannabis bud while preparing to play his guitar

However you choose to unwind after a long day, set it to upbeat music. If you like to enjoy the relaxing effects of cannabis, consider pairing the two. Try a puff of our live resin disposable vapes with low-fi beats, or a bite of our delta-9-infused fudgy brownies with some Neo Soul jam. 

Remember, this is your daily wellness ritual, which means you choose the components, from the elixir to the playlist.

Tuning Into Wellness: Using Music for Mood

Music and mental health is clearly an exciting field of study. If the above research demonstrates anything, it's that there is a substantial body of work showcasing the power of music to influence our mood and well-being. 

But it's important to note that for those experiencing the effects of depression and anxiety, nothing replaces professional help. Yes, music could help improve mental health, but it's just one piece of a much broader scope of treatment. These recommendations are only meant to supplement an overall mindful lifestyle, not substitute medical advice.

Until next time, keep your mind in mind.

FDA Disclaimer: The statements made regarding these products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The efficacy of these products has not been confirmed by FDA-approved research. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. All information presented here is not meant as a substitute for or alternative to information from health care practitioners. Please consult your healthcare professional about potential interactions or other possible complications before using any product. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act requires this notice.

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