Time of golden colors and warm blankets; of friendly meetings with a cup of hot chocolate and foggy mornings; of pumpkin soup and melancholic movies; of dozens of umbrellas on the streets and days shorter than nights… Yes, this is about autumn, a season that challenges us with its controversy of brightness and greyness.
Since high school times, I noticed that autumn brings me an unexplainably random feelings of sadness, weakness, lack of energy and interest. I am sure that many students can relate to this problem. At some point, I found out about the term “seasonal affective disorder” or “seasonal depression” and calmed down. Scientists claim that such state can be explained by reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter. In turn, this seemingly unimportant factor results in a drop of serotonin, a brain chemical that affects one’s mood.
When I moved to Kaunas, I realized that the autumn season is much more challenging for me here. Constant rainy weather and greyish sky brought me to the point of watching Russian love stories with a pack of napkins by my side every evening. “Baby, this is the Baltic region,” my friends were saying. Thereby, I started looking for a way of solving my huge problem (for Russian and, moreover, love stories are an alarm alert! Kidding 🙂 ).
I was surprised to discover that my magic pill was… music, blues in particular. It is known that music is the best medicine for the times when something sad or anxious disturbs one’s mind. It is enough to switch on a favorite heart breaking song and feel it with every cell of the body, as a negative feeling or emotion is slowly disappearing. Yet, I noticed that music helps to direct my mood. The same function of music is used in movies, if you have noticed. As soon as something terrific should happen, we can notice how music becomes more intense; but once there is a happy ending scene, the melody brightens. Yet, the most interesting is how we experience sad scenes with bright music: although feeling sad about the characters of the scene, we have any kind of hope about their future. This strong and unusual mixture of emotions makes such scenes the most memorable. Thus, I started listening to blues, which is relaxing and pleasant for me personally, every time I was catching myself up with a negative or sad thought. And, oh havens! It helped!
So, why music makes us feel good or better? The thing is that human body reacts to music the same way as to tasty food, sex and addictive drugs. People listening to pleasurable music have regions called the limbic and paralimbic areas activated in their brain. These areas belong to the reward center in our brain which appears to be stimulated as well. Thereby, the brain considers music as a reward and tells us: “Friend, let’s make sure we do that thing again. So, let’s make us feel good so that we do it again!” This is how pleasure works. Besides, do you know the song “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”? I assume, Ian Dury, the creator, new some theory.
Yet, music is a much more interesting thing. German-American psychologist, neuroscientist, and music therapist, Stefan Koelsh, claims that music influences five human abilities: to concentrate, to regulate emotions, to remember, to move, and to communicate. Let’s look at them separately.
First of all, music can grab our attention and distract us from stimuli that may lead to negative experiences. This knowledge is used in some American hospitals where doctors turn on music during surgeries. Interestingly, music not only reduces the level of patients’ pain and worry, but also helps the surgeons to perform their tasks better. Another example can be music for reading or studies. Personally, I turn on calm music when I study, and I noticed that I get distracted less.
Secondly, music can regulate the activity of brain regions that are involved in the initiation, generation, maintenance, termination, and modulation of emotions, states Koelsh. Hello, creators of movie soundtracks! Music in movies definitely helps to control emotions of the viewers and direct their expectations.
One more unique ability of music is to restore memories. I am sure that each of you has at least one song that sends you back to your past experiences. In my case, it is a special Ukrainian Christmas carol that I used to sing with my family. However, we are talking about decoding of musical memories when the person has no memory dysfunctions. Yet, music can help even when one has memory loss. A great example of this music phenomenon is presented in Pixar animation Coco. The grandmother of a little boy Miguel is sick with dementia and thus has issues with short- and long-term memory which is saved in hippocampus. Also, she totally relies on family and does not perform any activity because of her age. However, when Miguel sings the song that the grandma’s father used to sing her in childhood, Mama Coco recalls it and sings with the boy. Furthermore, she even has a short speech after the song finishes, when usually she could say just a couple of words. This is the result of music stimulation, and it is scientifically approved in real life. The thing is that the episode that Mama Coco had remembered was encoded in the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain. Since Mama Coco loved her father, singing a song with him was an emotional episode for her. This episode had been saved in her amygdala through emotional learning. Once she heard the song, this part of the brain was activated, which resulted in recalling such an important episode of her life temporarily. Looks like a miracle, does not it?
I would like to combine the last two abilities of music for I find them quite interrelated. Music influences the non-verbal communication of human beings. In other words, it allows people to interact on a more emotional level. Music is the language on its own, and some musicians may use it better when performing their compositions than the verbal one. That’s why we may cry when we hear a minor melody, or we want to dance when we hear Latina. Our body reacts to this unique language although no verbal language is used, and this kind of reaction, or better to say, expression, is already called a dance.
So, dear friend, treat yourself with the music you enjoy and stay healthy! And especially, do it in Fall, when we tend to be sad more often than usually. Have a great autumn time!