Music can be used to evoke wide ranges of either calming or stimulating physical responses. Research has shown that music can affect blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, pupil dilation, discomfort and tolerance to pain. Music can affect our mood, our stress levels, match our emotional responses.
Music may identify and help manage our feelings. Music can unlock and help bring feelings to the surface. Music may be able to wash up to shore deeply buried, hidden, repressed or painful feelings and with support, these feelings may be processed.
Music is commonly used as a mood enhancer. In their research, Levitin and Menon found that listening to music caused a cascade of brain regions to become activated. The limbic system involved in arousal, pleasure and the transmission of opioids (natural pain killing substance, i.e. endorphins) and the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter needed for healthy function of the central nervous system, was one of the areas activated  .
Researchers believe that positive mood and affect are increased with dopamine.
Music can appease stress and anxiety. When the brain attends music and the auditory input is "safe", dopamine and other sedating chemicals that calm and minimize systemic excitability are discharged. Sound vibrations that permeate in the music environment blanket a person and provide a soothing message that the whole brain accepts as calming. The brain attends the music and momentarily forgets its fear and anxiety.
Music has a tremendous capacity to connect people, through shared events, feelings or ideas. It may be a key in motivating participation and developing camaraderie. Music enhances appropriate social interactions and catalyzes recreation and enjoyment where there may otherwise be isolation and loneliness. Music may facilitate intimacy. Music can be a lifelong form of recreation and leisure and enhance fitness training.
Furthermore, music can bring balance into charged situations. It may serve to neutralize differences and celebrate commonalities. Music may catalyze and develop tolerance between diverse cultures. Listening with open ears and open hearts may expand the borders of respect and working together.
Here are some ways you can stay musically active and enhance your well-being:
- Join a choir
- Take a dance class
- Make a playlist of 10 songs that stimulate you. Play these when you need to be active.
- Make a playlist of 10 songs that calm you. Play these in stressful situations i.e. driving in rush hour traffic.
- Go to a live concert.
- Find gentle soothing music and take a music bath before bedtime.
- Listen to a new piece of music.
- Learn to appreciate a new style of music.
- Pick up an instrument. This may include taking lessons or rejuvenating old skills.
- Join a drumming circle.
- Choose a life song, a song that expresses who you are, the values you believe in, that would in fact be a musical epitaph.
- Join a songwriting circle.
 Levitin, D., (2006). This is Your Brain on Music. New York: Dutton p.187
By: Bev Foster, Music Care Expert at AgeComfort.org Health Care Resource Centre
Photo Credit: Alejandro Matos