“Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak,” or so spoke Almeria in William Congreve’s The Mourning Bride. Whether music can soften rocks or bend knotted oaks is subject to debate, but there’s no question that the right type of music can soothe a savage breast—or, translated into more current terminology, relax the listener and take the edge off a stressful situation.
Music is a powerful tool that can improve our well-being in a variety of ways and in many different situations. Indeed, the benefits of injecting more music into our lives can be so far-reaching that we should look at music not just as a pleasant pastime, but as the soundtrack to better well-being.
Track 1: setting the tone for the day
Our outlook on the day is established almost as soon as we open our eyes in the morning (and sometimes even earlier). If you typically dread taking on the day or can never seem to get motivated, some inspirational music playing in the background might help to light a little fire in your belly. Or, if you usually wake up with the jitters, agonizing over how you’re going to manage everything that the day is going to throw at you, some soothing, relaxing selections might be just what the doctor ordered.
Track 2: taking the rage out of your road trip
With an endless string of potholes to dodge, aggressive drivers riding your bumper, unanticipated traffic snarls, and orange construction barrels at every turn, the morning commute can put you in a foul mood in a hurry. Listening to your favorite music on the way to work turns an otherwise frustrating, unproductive time of day into pleasurable alone time. It also serves as a “pressure release valve,” takes your mind off all the work that awaits you, and leaves you better disposed to deal with coworkers and superiors. Of course, it can also help you unwind during your return commute after a long, hard workday.
Track 3: music to cook (and eat) by
Eating healthy, home-cooked meals is good for you, mind and body. But if you view preparing a healthy meal as a chore or feel that you are simply too tired to cook by the time you get home, you might just be approaching it the wrong way. Add music to the menu, and you’ll find that the process of cooking can be fun and relaxing.
Music is even good for digestion. Listening to soothing music, especially classical selections, evokes a state of relaxation, which lowers your cortisol level. Cortisol is a natural hormone produced by the body during times of stress, and studies show that an elevated cortisol level can impair digestion. Furthermore, being relaxed at dinnertime means you’ll likely eat less and savor your food (and company) more.
Track 4: taking the boredom out of chores
A clean, organized home offers a lower-stress environment. However, tackling household chores is about the last thing any busy person wants to do in those rare moments of free time. In this case, dispense with the classical or otherwise mellow selections and go for something a little more up-tempo and energetic to keep your energy level sufficiently high. Who says housework can’t be fun?
Track 5: revving up exercise
Like housework, exercise becomes much more manageable when it’s set to music. Listen to a lineup of your favorite tunes, and you’ll notice that your exercise time just flies by—even mundane, repetitive workouts like walking or jogging on a treadmill. Try to match your music to the intensity of your workout—start at a slow to moderate pace for the warm up, increase the tempo for the more intense phase of your workout, and then bring the tempo back down for your cool-down period.
Track 6: the lullaby
It’s no secret that stress can make sleep elusive. What better way to counteract a stressful day and drift off to sleep than to listen to relaxing music? Music slows your breathing and heart rate and distracts your mind from the challenges of tomorrow, which makes it much easier to drop off at night. Couple soothing song choices with a nice, warm bath before bed, and you’ll get even better results. ❦