Why crying it out to "Fire and Rain" is good for you
September 5, 2014
Without fail, James Taylor’s music always makes me tear up. The first couple chords of “Shower the People” transport me to my family’s Volvo station wagon on the way to the beach, or dancing around the living room with a tape cassette player clutched in my 5th grade hands. It doesn’t matter where I am when I hear him—the bus, a wedding reception, a crowded coffee shop, or the produce section at Harris Teeter—it’s an instant, sweet kind of nostalgia, and it always brings my feelings to the surface.
Music has extraordinary influence over our emotions and mood, as anyone who has sniffled their way through R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” can attest. In fact, there is so much scientific evidence supporting the positive effects of music on the brain that music therapists work in a huge variety of settings ranging from elementary schools to nursing homes. Music can help us communicate better, stress less, smile more, and process our emotions, making it an amazing self care tool.
Sometimes we truly aren’t aware of how we’re feeling. If we get into the habit of suppressing painful emotions with Netflix and Merlot, we may find that our feelings drift so far out of reach that it’s hard to reconnect with our inner selves. The right songs can help bring our emotions back to the real world, so we can deal with the source of our suffering, and move through it more quickly. A couple years back, Saturday Night Live demonstrated this beautifully and hilariously with Adele’s Someone Like You.
Listening to music that makes you feel something also leads your brain to release a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is responsible for feelings of joy and pleasure. Just like dopamine helps you enjoy drugs, sex, and cheesecake, it helps you feel high when you listen to your favorite music, especially during and just before the most emotional parts of the songs. You certainly already know firsthand that music can make you feel great, and I’m sure more than a few songs come to mind that make you grin at a restaurant or dance in the car.
So, how do you tap into the wellness benefits of music? Here are a few ideas:
Make a get-up-and-go playlist. You’ve probably felt the jolt of energy that makes you run faster or dance when you’re listening to your favorite music. Double up on energy by plugging in your ear buds and taking your music with you for more joyful movement.
Feel your feelings. Find a song that helps you get your emotions out in the open, so you can actively work through them. This is the musical equivalent of watching The Notebook. It takes courage to face your pain, but it can give you a serious catharsis, which lowers stress and allows you to practice deeper self compassion. Research suggests that the tone of the music may be more important than the lyrics, so keep that and the nostalgia effect in mind as you search for your songs.
Sing. Even if you have a voice so bad that your cat flees the room, singing along with feel-good music can make you feel better. Singing releases mood-boosting endorphins, plus the the extra oxygen intake from taking a deep breath to hold long notes helps you relax. If that isn’t a great reason to choose 80s anthems at the karaoke bar, I don’t know what is.