Though her name has mostly been built as a prominent ambient music artist, Diane Arkenstone is a multi-genre musician. She has created transcendent ambient songs, as well as trance, world, americana, Native American, and Celtic music.”
How Healing Music Affects the Body
It can sound a little far-fetched that music can actually be healing, but for thousands of patients this is exactly true. Music can be a tool to boost our productivity, our emotional health, and improve sleep.
The Connections Between Sound & Health
Whether we’re talking about emotions, thoughts, or the chemical processes of the body, music affects us. We respond to sounds. The different types of sounds–slow vs fast, high vs low pitch–inspire different reactions in each of us.
While people have been using these reactions to their advantages far back in history, there is also evidence from modern science. While there are still many mysteries, we have documented a change in our heart rates and an increase in the rate at which we heal coinciding with specific songs. Our brains love music. It grabs onto the sounds and lets them change us. The more we understand about this, the more we can use this to our advantage. We can play the right song at the right time to help us get fired up or to calm down or even to aid in the healing process.
Studies have found that a calming sound has a soothing effect on the body. We don’t just enjoy these songs, we can see a physical change in how our bodies respond. Our heart rate will slow, as will our breathing. Our blood pressure lowers. We can see the endocrine system, the autonomic nervous system both calm. Relaxing music can help ease muscle tension, lower stress, and trigger serotonin and oxytocin–hormones necessary for sleep. In fact, the stress hormone, cortisol, is reduced, which is also necessary for sleep.
What does all of this mean? While it’s always a good idea to lower your stress levels, it’s even more important when you’re trying to emotionally or physically recover from something. Healing music can be an important tool during your journey.
The Right Song Lessens Our Perception of Pain
Of course listening to songs doesn’t lessen your injury, but it can reduce your perception of the pain. This is of course a great thing because we want to feel less pain, but it’s also important because by lessening your pain, your body is able to better relax. When you ease muscle tension, slow your heart rate, and produce many of the other reactions listed above that music can be responsible for, you create a better environment for your body to heal. You sleep more and better; you aren’t straining your muscles, and you are putting yourself on a better path for recovery.
It may sound too good to be true that a good song can lessen the way we perceive pain, but science backs this up.
There have been 70+ studies done that prove listening to music before surgery, during surgery, and afterward can reduce the anxiety and pain levels patients experience. These patients use less pain medication.
The lessening of pain has been evidenced in surgery patients, those with acute pain, and sufferers of chronic pain caused by conditions that are difficult to treat.
One of the reasons this may be is that we release emotions when we listen or when we sing along. When we’re in pain, we don’t have many good ways to let ourselves feel and let go of our emotions, but music can be an excellent solution to this problem.
Music has also been shown to stimulate the immune system, which boosts healing.
If you’re wondering why music is able to do all of this, so are scientists. This is one of the mysteries studies are looking into when they research these reactions. It could be that sounds gives our minds something else to think about, the emotional release, the fact that is eases tension in the body which would then reduce pain levels, or that it stimulates dopamine and oxytocin, hormones responsible for happier feelings. We just aren’t yet sure. What matters most, is that it does.
Our Bodies Need Sleep
As mentioned above, sleep is essential for the healing process. While we sleep, our bodies put more energy into processes that help our bodies heal. Rest can be a magical solution for our health.
The reactions music produces in our body mentioned above, slowed breathing and lowered heart rate for example, are reactions that mimic a sleep state. When we listen to a relaxing song before bed, we are telling our bodies that it’s now time to sleep. If you perform this same ritual at the same time every day, you will train your body to sleep and the reaction will grow stronger over time.
A bi-directional relationship is where two things both affect each other. Sleep has this type of relationship with our moods. The better we sleep, the better our mood. The better our mood, the easier it is for us to sleep. Listening to relaxing music improves our mood and our ability to sleep, making it a powerful tool to aid this relationship.
If you are looking for a good song to relax before bed, try Diane Arkenstone’s song “Return to the Earth”. Her album “This Sacred Land” is full of relaxing Native American songs easy to lay back and relax, slow your heart rate, and get ready for sleep. The beautiful sounds of the flute will keep your mind active enough to stay engaged, but relaxed enough to drift off.
Ways to Use Songs to Ease Anxiety
We know that taking a five-minute time out for ourselves can be a powerful way to relieve anxiety. But what to do during that time? Activities like reading, coloring books, and meditation have all been powerful tools for many people. During any of these activities, you could also use the power of music.
Choose songs you enjoy
This one may seem obvious, but it’s often not. Some people think they have to listen to a certain kind of music to relieve anxiety, and that’s just not true. Pick songs that match your mood, your style, and that feels right to you.
Avoid songs with too many memories
If you listened to it at your high school prom, you’re probably going to flash back to that moment in time. To relieve anxiety, you need to do things that bring you fuller into the present. If you aren’t sure about what songs will be all right for you, find something new you use only for this exercise and see if that helps.
Try listening to songs without lyrics
Singing along to lyrics may be the perfect release for you, and if that’s what works, then you should do what speaks to you. But you may want to consider trying songs without lyrics. These types of songs have less chance of sparking memories for you, since there are no words to spark them.
If you’re looking for a song to help you relax, try AH*NEE*MAH’s “Sun Circle”. AH*NEE*MAH is a collaboration Diane Arkenstone was a part of. The song is five minutes long, perfect for a short breather, has no lyrics, a beautiful flute to follow along with, and calming Native American tones. You can find this song on the Ancient Visions album, available to download on Amazon or for streaming on Spotify.
Looking Ahead to Music and Medicine
As mentioned above, scientists are still looking for why songs affects us the way they do. In the meantime, they are also looking at ways to use its healing powers to help patients on their recovery journeys. Music is being used to help treat symptoms and conditions that otherwise have no solutions.
What music therapy is…
This is an evidence-based therapy where a therapist offers patients instruments or the opportunity to sing. Music therapy is used with patients of all ages. It helps individuals communicate. It has been shown to improve the quality of life for many people with physical, cognitive, emotional, or even social needs.
Reducing agitation in Dementia patients
A study was done at Nottingham University Hospital that found music therapy reduced stress and anxiety in patients with dementia. This increased their social interaction and put them in a better place emotionally. Similar studies have produced the same findings. Two music sessions of 30-minutes each per week have made a significant impact on these patients.
NICU patients benefit from calming sound
For premature infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), live music has been found to lower heart rates in the same way it does in adult patients. It also helped encourage them to take more food, increase their sucking behavior, and they showed better oxygen saturation.
Singing lullabies or playing a soothing rhythm was done three times per week to increase the well being of the infants.
Improved symptoms for those with ADHD
Music therapy has been shown to improve focus. Paying attention to sound can bring us more into the moment. Music activates our brain. It’s no surprise then that for patients with ADHD, therapy sessions can have a powerful effect. Studies have shown that ADHD patients have improved self-control, social skills, and focus when they are regularly a part of music therapy sessions.
There’s No Telling What More Sound Can Do
Scientists have only begun studying the ways we are affected by sound and the relationship between those effects and healing. What is clear is that the right song can help us better focus, move past pain, and relax. All of these powerful effects are significant parts of the healing journey for patients in all kinds of situations.