Turn up the music, but choose your song carefully

I was driving on autopilot when it happened. Alone in the car, I was in a small queue leading up to a roundabout. My eyes had slid slightly out of focus staring at the brake lights of the four wheel drive in front of me, and the gentle tick-tick of the indicator was slightly out of time with the song on the radio. I was barely aware of the song at first, but when Post Malone sang “Ooh, I fall apart, down to my core” a powerful sensation welled to life in my chest, like a balloon being blown up inside me. In a matter of seconds, the feeling had risen through my throat and my eyes were smarting. I guess I drove through the roundabout okay, but I don’t remember doing it. I only remember the flashback.

It’s the only time in my life that I’ve ever experienced something like it. One moment, happily driving along, the next moment the memory had pressed itself on to my brain with such force that I felt like I had been transported back in time to a year previously. I was sitting in the car but I was somehow also standing in my shower, the day after being discharged from hospital following the premature birth of my son. The blood ran down my legs and swished around my feet, mingling with the warm water. Chunks of torn placenta washed down the drain, looking like something out of a horror film. The Bluetooth speaker was blasting Post Malone’s I Fall Apart, and I was breaking down. Separated from my baby, I ached to be with him so badly it felt physical. For the duration of that song, I let myself cry. When the final note faded away, I straightened up, cleaned myself, and stepped out of the shower, ready to be strong for my child.

I was shocked that a year later, the sound of that song could illicit such a powerful reaction from me, when I wasn’t even consciously listening to it. But music is a powerful thing.

My experience with music bringing forth emotion as I drove along was a sad one, but the power of music can be used for good, as well. When we listen to music, it lights up nearly every region of the brain. Music therapy helps people cope with chronic pain, improves blood flow and lowers cortisol levels (the stress hormone). It can be used to help uncover memories in people suffering from dementia, improve surgery outcomes, and even reduce the tremors of Parkinson’s disease. So how can you harness the power of music in your life? To get you started, here are just a couple ways I use music in my everyday life.

The get psyched mix

The opening scene of The Internship sees Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn driving to a big meeting, listening to a Get Psyched Mix to pump them up. Hilariously, they listen to Alanis Morissette’s Ironic, which actually does serve to get them psyched.

Create your own Get Psyched Mix and listen to it before something stressful, like a big meeting, a performance, or a race. It’ll get you in a good headspace for what you’re about to do.

Exercise harder

On low-key days at the gyms, I listen to podcasts or nothing at all. But when I’m out to set a personal record, music is a must. It’s been shown in research that listening to music while working out lowers the level of perceived exertion, so you don’t feel like you’re working as hard. And music with a fast beat will get your running feet moving faster, too! Choose whatever music does it for you.

Calming down

Similarly to getting psyched up, you can use music to calm yourself down. Listening to music can actually shift the mind into a state similar to meditation, which I personally find super helpful if I’m getting worked up. Sometimes it’s too big of a step for me to be calm enough to just sit and breathe, but listening to a song or two has the same effect with a quarter of the effort. Choose the song carefully though! Heavy metal is unlikely to calm me down, but love songs do the trick quite nicely.

Boost your mood

When we feel well mentally, it positively effects our physical and emotional health. If you’re not feeling great, turn on some music. Some people find it cathartic to listen to a sad song when they feel sad, and I’m one of them. But I leave it at one or two songs, and then slowly progress to happier tunes that lift my mood. Music produces dopamine – the happiness drug – but you don’t need me to tell you that. Put on your fave song and you’ll feel it.

Have a song and dance

Belting out the lyrics of a song you love, and dancing wildly around, is the biggest mood booster of them all. I love having ‘dance parties’ with my 3-year-old in the living room. Not only are we getting active, we’re doing something amazing for our mental and physical wellbeing by enjoying music together.

A few weeks ago, we went to a preschool disco and it saddened me to see that most of the parents were just standing around watching the kids dance. Don’t be too cool! Get in there! Dance as though no one is watching and you’ll be surprised by how good you feel. So good that you don’t give a toss what anyone thinks about your dancing skills.

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