Workout playlists are a dime a dozen. Our wellness soundtrack goes way beyond—improving sleep, slaying stress, thwarting pain. No meds needed. Moody?
“The whole reason the phrase ‘sex, drugs, and rock and roll’ exists is because all of those things stimulate pleasure centres in the brain,” says Andrew Knight, an assistant professor of music therapy at Colorado State University. And now we’ve got the science to prove the music part of that, per a slew of recent studies showing that blasting specific types of tunes offers all kinds of mind and body benefits. From electrifying your attention span to mellowing you out on a tense day, these seven songs will take your health, if you will, platinum. Play. Thrive. Repeat.
To Cure A Bad Mood
Listening to Gwen’s pissed-at-Gavin track when you’re in a funk? Good. Lyrics and melodies that echo your mental state can validate your emotions—the first step to feeling better. “It can be a powerful, nonverbal psychotherapy,” says music therapist Suzanne Hanser. So if, say, you’re going through a brutal breakup, vent with this tune. Then, as your mood lifts, plug in a more up-tempo, positive song—try Gwen’s blissed-about-Blake “Make Me Like You”—to leave your blues behind.
To Melt Stress
Lying down in a quiet room with soft music and focusing on your breathing is just as effective as getting a massage. For about R500 less! An hour of either may lower your anxiety level by 40 percent. Practice this with a favourite low-key instrumental song, like one from this Eno album, for five minutes a day and, eventually, the song alone will help you feel less frazzled whenever you put it on. “It becomes a kick-start to your brain to ‘do’ the thing you’ve been pairing it with,” says Knight. In this case, chilling out.
To Get Creative
Playing new (or new-to-you) background jams can keep your brain buzzing at work. See, your noggin concentrates best when it’s not too bored or overly occupied—a sweet spot called “optimal complexity.” When you listen to songs that you know, “your brain is passive, because it knows where the music is going,” says Knight. Less-familiar tunes make your brain toggle between your work and the music, which distracts you just enough to break your pattern of thinking while keeping you from losing focus altogether.
To Quell Pain
Paging Dr. Feelgood: Research shows music can help tune out post-surgery aches. Wanna be similarly sedated for a headache or back pain? Pick a song that evokes a vivid, happy memory (like your wedding, where you danced with Dad to Clapton; or college parties where you shook your stuff to “Hey Ya!”). The pleasure and reward centres of your brain will respond as if you’re back in those joyful moments by releasing a flood of pain-relieving neurochemicals like dopamine and oxytocin, says Hanser.
To Get To Sleep
Chill songs can nudge you toward dreamland as well as any lullaby. Studies show that listening to 45 minutes of soothing classical music before bedtime helped insomniacs drift off, possibly by slowing down their heart and breathing rates. If you can’t get with Bach, try The Piano Guys, who do decelerated renditions of pop tunes like “Titanium” from David Guetta (feat. Sia). Plug in, switch off the lights, get between the sheets, and nod off.