Ever had a bad day and put on your favorite song for a pick-me-up? Researchers at the University of Missouri demonstrated what anyone who has listened to the Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy” already knows: that music has the power to influence mood. Songs that are up-tempo and pleasantly repetitive can help listeners to feel more relaxed, calm, friendly, and optimistic, according to the study. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics has weighed in on the healing powers of music, asserting that calming music can encourage pro-social behavior and curb impulsive behavior. Not bad for something that is low-to-no cost.

Why do scientists think music has such power over us? This is the million dollar question. To answer it, researchers have conducted all sorts of studies on the brain. While the research continues, here are some of the interesting findings to date:

  • Studies at McGill University have revealed that music is associated with immunoglobin A (an antibody linked to immunity) and higher counts of cells that fight germs and bacteria. Maybe Target should sell some Beethoven right next to that hand sanitizer!
  • Group singing (any Glee! fans out there?) has been shown to increase endorphins, lower stress, and lessen depression and loneliness.
  • For patients in the ICU, listening to music significantly lessened their need for pain medication, according to a University of Minnesota study.

How can you apply this research to help yourself? 

  1. If you are suffering from depression or anxiety, make music a regular part of your routine, wearing headphones as you walk the dog or tuning into Spotify while you make dinner.
  2. Remind yourself that music isn’t frivolous or a waste of time when you get busy, but a real way to help lower your blood pressure, slow your pulse and heart rate, ease chronic pain, and decrease levels of stress hormones.
  3. Create your own positive playlist, including songs that make you feel upbeat or that remind you of happier times. No one genre of music has a lock on positive benefits; what kind of music helps you relax is as unique as you are.
  4. Don’t feel silly asking to wear headphones in stressful situations like getting your blood drawn at the doctor, getting a shot, or having a cavity filled. I have had clients who are undergoing fertility treatments who ask the nursing staff to wear earbuds during procedures because of feelings of overwhelming anxiety. They report back that listening to music or meditations to music was helpful in quelling their stress reactions. Ultimately, your health care provider should have a vested interest in you staying calm and feeling more relaxed; music is one way to help you get there.
  5. Join a choir or have a family sing-along with your kids to get that positive group effect.

Whatever you choose to do with music, it’s not frivolous or a waste of time. The overall health of your body and mind can benefit, which is something Pharell Williams and the rest of us can be very happy about.