A Mental Health Playlist? How Music Affects the Brain

Wednesday, March 15 2023

Take a moment to think about your favorite song. Now think about how you feel when that song comes on. Maybe it makes you smile or dance, or boosts your mood a bit. There’s a reason for the positive vibes you feel when you listen to music you like. This is because music can have a profound effect on your brain and your feelings. 

Here are some fun facts about how music affects the brain and how it can help give your mental and physical health a boost. 

Music can help you relax

Studies have shown that certain music can lower your heart rate, slow breathing, and decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the blood. This is particularly true of slow music. Music can also stimulate the production of the “feel-good” chemical dopamine and help improve your mood. In fact, brain imaging studies have shown that music works at a very deep level within the brain, stimulating not only those regions responsible for processing sound, but also ones associated with emotions. So the next time you feel anxious or stressed, or are dealing with a lot of emotions, consider playing a slower tune you enjoy to help calm your body and your mind. 

Music can give you energy 

Conversely, music can also pump you up. Research has shown that working out with music helps your body exercise more efficiently, and cuts down on your awareness of exertion, which can lead to longer workouts. Moreover, studies have shown that working out with music can help you to reach peak performance while using less oxygen than if you worked out without music. So if you’ve questioned whether spending all that time curating your perfect high-energy workout playlist was worth it, rest assured, it was. Those fast-paced beats and rhythms really do keep you energized and motivated. What’s more? Your physical and mental health are strongly connected, so using music to help you stay physically healthy can also help you stay mentally healthy. 

Music can help you manage pain 

Music activates sensory pathways that compete with pain pathways, stimulating emotional responses and engaging cognitive attention. Essentially, music can distract your cognitive focus from pain, and in turn help you better manage and even reduce pain. So if you’re ever headed to the dentist for a root canal or can’t kick a nagging headache, consider popping in your headphones and playing your favorite tracks to help you feel better. 

Music can improve cognitive function

Researchers have speculated that listening to music can help organize the firing of nerve cells in the right half of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain responsible for higher functions. Music acts as an "exercise" that warms up selected brain cells and allows them to process information more efficiently. What’s more? Learning to play an instrument may enhance the brain's ability to master tasks involving language skills, memory, and attention. It’s never too late to sign up for those piano lessons to learn a new skill and boost your cognition.  

Music can boost creativity 

Studies have shown that listening to happy music increases performance on overall divergent thinking — a key element of creativity — suggesting that it enhances the cognitive flexibility needed to come up with creative solutions. This means music can enable your brain to switch between different concepts and perspectives, rather than seeing the problem from just one point of view. So the next time you’re tasked with finding a creative solution, consider putting on some upbeat, happy music to help you problem solve.

Create your whole-health playlist

Now that you know the positive effects music has on the brain, consider creating your very own playlists to benefit your mental and overall health. Whether it be a gym playlist to improve your endurance and physical health or a creativity playlist to improve your work performance, taking the time to listen to music can help you feel better — mentally and physically. 

Looking to further support your whole health? Adding therapy to your whole-health playlist can boost your well-being even more. SonderMind can help connect you with a therapist who’s right for you.

Get guidance throughout your mental health journey.

Stay connected and supported with the latest tips and information from SonderMind.