Finding Your Empowerment Anthem: Why You Should Let Music Lift You

Though people are divided on many things, there's no doubt that music brings us together. It has the power to change lives, lift spirits, and get us through hard times. Heartbreaks, grief, someone cutting you off in traffic — we've all been there. Some days, you need to curl up in a blanket and cry it out to a Taylor Swift breakup song or the melancholy tunes of Phoebe Bridgers. But we also need those songs that get us pumped, that make us feel like we're on top of the world no matter what kind of day we're having. We can sing these songs at the top of our lungs, windows down in the car, dancing at the club, or on a hot girl walk

Music is inherently good for us whether you're a pop listener, metalhead, jazz connoisseur, hip hop fan, or country lover, and it's one of the many ways we can add more joy to our lives. Here, we get into some of the ways music benefits our lives and why you should listen to more of it. 

Your brain on music

There's a plethora of research about the psychological effects of music. After all, it's fascinating how easily music can boost our moods and motivate us. It automatically feels good when you hear a song and tap along to the beat. That's because listening to music elicits the release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that brings us pleasure, according to 2019 research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). This is what makes us keep going back to our favorite songs — it feels like a reward to our brains.  

Music also has a powerful impact on memory. You may have seen videos online of people living with dementia who might have forgotten their loved ones' names but remember how to play an impressive song on the piano. Even those experiencing memory problems might still be able to sing along to music from childhood. A 2018 study from the University of Utah Health reports that playing familiar music for patients in memory care can help to manage their symptoms and offer an alternative route for communication. "Language and visual memory pathways are damaged early as the disease progresses, but personalized music programs can activate the brain, especially for patients who are losing contact with their environment," says Norman Foster, M.D., Director of the Center for Alzheimer's Care at the University of Utah Health and senior author on the study. 

Music as therapy

Music is proven to have therapeutic benefits. There's even an entire branch of therapy called music therapy. The American Music Therapy Association defines music therapy as a clinical tool certified experts use to help individuals achieve specific health goals. Music therapists work in various settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, schools, mental health facilities, correctional facilities, private practices, and more. Lots of people benefit from music therapy, from those with brain injuries, autism spectrum disorder, and memory disorders to military service veterans and people with substance use disorders. Even if we are completely healthy, we can all reap the therapeutic benefits of music. 

Music therapy aims to achieve certain goals depending on someone's needs. It can help manage stress, alleviate pain, express emotions, enhance memory, improve communication, and promote physical rehabilitation. The therapist and patient have a treatment plan that includes activities like music making and songwriting, talking about lyrics, receptive listening, learning through music, and more. Music is a powerful tool that significantly improves the lives of those struggling with illnesses and health issues. A 2003 study in the Journal of Music Therapy found that a group of hospice patients diagnosed with terminal cancer and given music therapy reported a higher quality of life than patients without it. They continued to report this as they received more sessions.

Music as motivation

Have you ever gone into the gym and realized you forgot your headphones? It's frustrating knowing your workout won't feel as good without your music. This makes a lot of sense why we think this way, as scientific evidence suggests that music helps us move our bodies. One 2012 study in the Asian Journal of Sports Medicine, for instance, found that when athletes listened to fast-paced music during their warmups, they performed better in competitions. 

Another 2020 study published in Sports Basel found that listening to your favorite songs can improve running performance. So when you're on the treadmill or even when you're doing a deep cleaning of your apartment, music will help you get the job done. A song's tempo, or beat per minute, can influence your workout or any task you do while listening to music. Songs between 120 and 140 beats per minute are recommended while doing cardio. A slow ballad would most likely not get you through your run, but if that's your thing, that's cool too! For lower-intensity activities like yoga, 60 to 90 beats per minute are recommended. 

The songs we can lean on

A lot of what makes music so empowering is the relatable lyrics of our favorite songs. When we've gone through hard times, it helps to know that other people have had similar struggles to let us know we're not alone. Some of the greatest and most popular examples of songs like these include "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor, "Firework" by Katy Perry, and "Survivor" by Destiny's Child. Other songs like Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" are all about embracing and celebrating who you are. Song lyrics can be incredibly powerful and relatable, allowing you to feel seen and validated. So when Beyoncé says, "you won't break my soul," you better believe it.

Music moves us physically and emotionally and can help us regulate our emotions. Simply put, a happy and upbeat tune may help us enter a positive headspace, while a sad, slower song might let us tap into our deeper emotions and let them out healthily.

Music connects us

Music is a universal language that transcends borders and cultures and brings people together. We all have songs that remind us of people we love that can later become the first dance song at your wedding. Life-long friendships can spark from a shared love of a song or musician. After all, there's nothing quite like the bond shared between strangers camping out at a concert venue together. As reported in a 2014 study from Frontiers in Psychology, there's a connection between social music events like concerts and the release of endorphins. That's why dancing at a club with your friends or going to a show and enjoying the music with the crowd around you feels amazing. It's a bonding experience between humans.

Even when we faced the COVID-19 lockdowns, this didn't stop people from playing music. Many artists had to cancel their tours, but some still put on virtual shows and live streams for everyone to enjoy from the safety of their homes. iHeart Radio put on an at-home concert called iHeart Living Room Concert for America, and several artists performed from their living rooms, including Elton John, Billie Eilish, Mariah Carey, The Backstreet Boys, and many more. Listeners were encouraged to donate to charities like Feeding America while listening to their favorite artists.

Integrate music into your life

Life is better with music, so make it a part of your routines. Rather than those dreadful alarm ringtones with your phone, start your day with your favorite songs, energizing you for the day ahead. When you have to tackle chores around the house, music will make these otherwise mundane tasks a lot more fun. 

One of the best ways to listen to music is by creating playlists. Though some streaming services like Spotify will do it for you, making your own is more fun. There are no limits to what a playlist can be — you can have one for your workout, the road trip you're going on, one for the songs that make you feel nostalgic, or a playlist that makes you feel like the main character in your own movie. 

If you can, try to see some of your favorite artists live. Concerts are truly unforgettable experiences you can share with people you love, giving you something amazing to look forward to.