When Ellie was a teenager, she remembers slipping her headphones on, slouching down in her school bus seat and listening to her favourite get-psyched songs on the way to high school football matches, chills running down her spine. Time after time, the pulsating beats gave her the courage to defend as the team’s top goalie. Today, she still uses music to get herself pumped up, although now she’s just as likely to be wearing earbuds in her office before an important business meeting as at a Sunday league match.
Like Ellie, we’ve all experienced the power of music to help motivate and inspire us—in sports, at work or when dealing with daunting personal situations. Scientists have looked at this phenomenon, proving what we all knew to be true: Music has an amazing ability to impact our lives by changing how we feel both emotionally and physically. Here are three ways listening to music can improve your life, plus science-backed hacks that’ll help you use your favourite tunes to get the most out of every day.
When Ellie cranks up the volume on her SoundSport Free wireless headphones, she likens it to putting on armour before going into battle. But music does more than just give you swagger—it can improve focus, raise morale and generally make you feel happier. It’s actually been proven by science. In one study, researchers played different styles of music while they asked people to identify various emoji faces as happy or sad. Even when a neutral-expression emoji was shown while uplifting tunes were playing, study participants reported that they saw a happy face. When more melancholy music was on? You guessed it: People saw a sad expression on that neutral face. Research shows that music can also help you feel more confident, putting you in a mindset that’s most likely to help you succeed—whether you’re trying to hit a 10K personal best time or nail a public speaking event. And a 2019 study finds that when you’re prepping for a big presentation or trying to plough through a pile of paperwork before a client meeting, music activates your brain’s “reward centre”, which makes you extra motivated to absorb information and get in the zone.
Like most people, you probably find that good tunes play a key role in powering you through a tough spin class or morning run. It turns out that listening to music after a workout is also beneficial—researchers found that listening to slow music post-workout increases relaxation by lowering your heart rate and cortisol (your body’s stress hormone) levels back to normal more quickly.
What’s more, if your sweat session leaves you feeling sore, music can help with that, too. Thanks to researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, we now know that when music reaches the brain, it sets off a series of chemical reactions that run interference with pain signals, preventing you from feeling as much discomfort.
If stress is your problem, music is your antidote: It’s a natural sleep aid and anxiety reliever. Soothing tunes can even alter brainwave speed enough to induce a relaxed, meditative state, according to scientists who monitored people’s brain activity while they listened to music and meditated. But here’s the catch: The music you choose to help you chill has to be relaxing to you. If you’re not sure where your mellow music sweet spot is, try listening to a few different genres such as light jazz, classical, Celtic or even percussive soundtracks to see what you find most calming.
Tip: Choose music that matches the mood you’re aiming to embody. If you’re stressed about a big work deadline and your heart is racing, opt for tunes with a slow beat. Having trouble drifting off to sleep? Play instrumental music so there’s no chance of song lyrics making your mind wander. Once you’ve got your go-to playlist, give yourself a “sound bath” no matter where you are with the Bose Portable Home Speaker, an all-in-one Wi-Fi®, Bluetooth® and voice-controlled speaker.
If you asked Ellie, she’d tell you she’s not even really conscious of using music to manipulate her moods. Over the years, it’s become second nature to slip headphones on any time she needs that extra kick of confidence or wants to walk into a boardroom and feel invincible. And that’s the best scenario of all, really: Doing something because it just feels good, with all the benefits attached.