music notes

Using music to help you get through hard times

“Music has charms to soothe a savage breast.” It was true in William Cosgrove’s 1697 play, The Mourning Bride, and it’s true today. Listening to music can be a balm to soothe your soul. It can elicit joy, breed sorrow, and create serenity, all in the same piece. It’s a universal language; every culture has some form of music in it, often used for ritual purposes. But today, we’re talking about music and how it can help you get through hard times. 

Enjoying music releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, the reward chemical in your brain. It hits the same pleasure centers in your brain as food, sex, and drugs. In fact, if you take naltrexone, a drug prescribed to treat addiction disorders, then listen to your favorite songs, they won’t sound as good as they usually do. (Crazy, right?!)

Musical emotions and musical memories are among the strongest we possess. They’re the last to go, even when all other memories have long since faded. Listening to music engages multiple parts of the brain, making connections and building associations.

Music can also regulate your mood. I was at the Pilot station the other day, when one of my favorite songs came on the radio. I just sat and listened to it, softly singing along. It took me back to a simpler, less stressful time in my life. I could feel the muscles in my back, shoulders, neck, and hips all relaxing. I felt calmer and less stressed out. It’s now the newest addition to my Spotify playlist, Sing Sing Sing.

A woman wearing headphones, singing, surrounded by musical notes

Science says music can get you through hard times

The American Musical Therapy Association has determined that music therapy can be designed to do things like help you manage stress, improve your memory, and even alleviate physical pain. It’s the perfect way to help you get through hard times.


A review in The Lancet in 2015 looked at 77 different trials, encompassing more than 7,000 patients and determined that patients who listened to music before, during, and after surgery had less pain and anxiety, and even needed less pain medication.


And if you actually play music, the rewards can be even greater. There’s evidence that musicians can learn and remember more stuff than non-musicians. It makes sense; we’re constantly learning new melodies, harmonies, lyrics, and ways to play our particular instruments. (At last count, I can play — with varying degrees of success — 47 different musical instruments.)


When you’re going through hard times, it can feel impossible to get out. But listening to music, especially when you sing, play, or dance along, can be a huge help. So fire up Spotify and make up a newfangled mix tape of all your favorite songs for whatever mood strikes you.


In addition to the Sing Sing Sing playlist, I’ve also created Dance Dance Dance, Superhero Music, Serenity, and Kick This Bad World’s Ass. Whenever I’m working, one of them is almost always playing. It just depends on the mood I’m in and the mood I want to be in.


Music is always there for me whenever I’m going through hard times, too. There’s nothing more cathartic than putting Spotify on, cranking it up, and singing at the top of my lungs. For other people, dancing it out may work wonders. And for other others, there’s nothing better than plugging in the guitar and jamming to the tunes in their heads. 


Try listening to music that’s outside your typical preference. If you’re a country fan, try some R&B. Or if you’re a metalhead, give some classical music a shot. If you’re into grunge, go for the 80’s, 90’s, and today radio station. You’ll never know what wonders you’ll find in other kinds of music. 

Whatever your musical listening pleasure, music is easily accessible wherever you are, and always helps keep you calmer, so you can keep a level head no matter what’s going on. You can use it to reduce your stress level to help you get through hard times.


For more on getting through hard times, check out How to get through hard times, How to stay productive even when you’re depressed, and How to cope when you can’t cope






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