Everyone has a different connection to music. Some, like my grandmother, are indifferent–she knows it exists, but it’s just not for her. And then there’s me; music has always played some part in my life. Starting when I was little, my dad would put on one of his many classical CDs, and then he’d have me imagine the story the song was telling. Was it about a princess escaping the grasps of an evil dragon? Or an epic sea battle between two crews of enemy pirates?
As I grew, music meant various things to me, but it never lost that touch of magic that made it so easy to let my mind wander. Music became an especially important part of my life during a time when I was depressed, socially anxious, and generally feeling lost in my own little bubble of the world. One night a few years ago around 8 pm, I was trapped in my room in the middle of a particularly bad anxiety attack, (although I was pretty used to them, this one was the worst). My lungs felt covered in Saran Wrap, and my mind buzzed with the same anxious thoughts over and over. Then before I knew it, I was in my mom’s arms. She asked if I wanted to go for a drive. She took me, still shaking and a bit disoriented, downstairs to the car, and we left the house with no destination in mind.
As we pulled out of the driveway, my mom asked if I wanted to put some music on while we drove. We made our way across the rolling hills cloaked by the starry sky, and as we drifted past the grassy fields, “Try Everything” by Shakira came on. With the windows open, the crisp breeze brushed the tears off my face, and the growing beat of the song encouraged me not to be afraid of failure or to doubt myself. As the lyric “Look how far you’ve come, you filled your heart with love, baby you’ve done enough take a deep breath,” combined with the cool breeze rushing through the windows, I felt free. Not everything was miraculously all better, but in that moment, I knew that it could be if I fought for it.
Music has a way of feeding directly into human emotions. Most people can recall a song that immediately causes them to relax a little more with the easygoing ukulele, maybe to tense up at a heart-wrenching ballad, or to start dancing and smiling to a catchy electronic beat. The song “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles is almost universally recognized as a happy, upbeat song. But if you were to remove the lyrics, it would still sound cheerful. That’s because the emotions of a song are rooted in far more than just the lyrics. The beat and vibrations of a song have the power to impact the neurochemical mechanism that manages, “mood, stress, immunity, and as an aid to social bonding,” according to a 2013 McGill University study. So listening to a song like “Here Comes the Sun” can actually alter your mood and make you a bit more cheerful.
This direct connection between music and mood is one of the reasons playlists, or in the past, mix tapes, are so popular. A playlist created to help yourself through a breakup might be full of Adele and Air Supply. Or another to hype yourself up for a big speech might include songs by Beyoncé and Pat Benatar on repeat. This is because these songs or artists have a specific style that plugs directly into the mechanisms controlling our emotions, the ones that decide whether we feel a bit more confident, or down, or any other emotion.
In this way, music can console or bolster confidence far more effectively than language alone ever can. In the past, I’ve found certain songs that communicated what I was feeling and helped me understand my emotions in a therapeutic way. If used in a healing way, music not only lets you communicate your emotions effectively to others but also spurs you to explore and better understand them yourself.
The majority of songs I used to listen to were melancholy, and at times I found they re-enforced my insecurities. Eventually I found music that I could connect with in a way that helped me cope rather than give in. Since then, and in the past two years, I’ve made an effort to listen to music that supports me. Yes, sometimes that means listening to cheesy music like “Upside Down” by Jack Johnson or “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves. But it also means allowing myself to take comfort in music that validates my emotions without leading me too deeply into a negative mindset.
Music is one of the most genuine ways to connect ourselves to what’s tangible and authentic. One song has the power to connect with and pull together diverse communities of people from across the globe, while another can make us leap from our seats in the middle of horror movie scene. There’s something about listening to music that takes us away to those mystical lands where we can simply be raw, brutally honest, and most of all, ourselves.
Click here to listen to all of the songs mentioned in the article plus a few that simply fit with them.