I woke up the other morning with tears in my eyes and Dobie Gray’s rendition of “Drift Away” playing in my thoughts.
“Even though the confusion grows daily, I continue to search for hope in the pouring rain.”Oh, release my soul, give me the rhythm lads, and let me lose myself in your rock ‘n’ roll.
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I found the song on YouTube and began to play it through a few times while listening. The lyrics and music changed something inside of me almost immediately. I had been feeling gloomy moments earlier, but as soon as the music started, I felt better. It took me from despair to a feeling of optimism. I’ve liked this song since I was a teenager. Perhaps it was the surprising compassion in the singer’s voice, or maybe it was the sadness I felt beneath the words, but something affected me.
I’ve studied hundreds of papers as a translational researcher at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, examining the ways in which the arts support learning, health, and well-being. These studies provide fundamental insights into the ways in which sound and music affect various brain and body regions. I was reassured today by music’s ability to promote mental health once more. Even something as basic as listening to your favorite music may lift your spirits and bring back memories from long ago. Additionally, it may greatly improve your everyday life when we remember to apply this information for wellness practices, treatments, and prevention.
The song “Drift Away” set off a series of neurological reactions that flooded my mind with feelings and memories while also increasing blood flow to various parts of my brain, including the limbic system. In addition, it made my reward system work, which made me feel better. We are instantly affected by music. It comforts, uplifts, brings us joy, leads and points us in the right direction, validates our emotions, and ties us back to our basic human needs and needs of nature. The human language is communicated to us through the structure, rhythms, melodies, syntax, genres, lyrics, certain instruments, and even the vocalist’s voice.
We are musically wired. Through our senses, we bring the outside world inside our bodies and minds. My inner ear’s fluid moved as a result of the melody and sound of “Drift Away” activating my eardrums on a biological level. The liquid twisted the hairs on my cells, causing them to become nerve impulses that went to my brain. These impulses traveled through the neuronal networks of my brain, bringing back vivid memories and intense feelings, which quickly changed my perspective and attitude.
We feel music at our core, and we are getting closer than ever to knowing why. The limbic system, the area of the brain that facilitates emotional experience, processes music quickly, which is one reason why it affects us so instantly.
I experienced musical frisson while listening to “Drift Away,” as this joyful stimulus caused the neurotransmitter dopamine to be produced. Stated differently, I experienced a peak emotional experience that led to a bodily reaction. Dopamine improves concentration, planning, and even cognitive function in addition to improving feelings of well-being and cell communication.
Technological advancements over the past 20 years, such as positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), have allowed us to study the remarkable ways that the arts and aesthetics affect us and see inside our heads, opening our minds to new avenues for understanding whole health. The most researched art form is music, and scientists are only now starting to comprehend some of the ways that it affects the prefrontal frontal, visual cortex, amygdala, hippocampus, auditory and sensory cortex, among other intricately linked systems in the brain.
It turns out there are a lot of advantages to both creating and listening to music. For instance, women who sing to their infants can improve bonding and lessen the symptoms of postpartum depression by lowering the stress hormone cortisol. Additionally, singing allows dementia patients to access autobiographical musical memories stored in several brain areas unaffected by the illness. The final effect is a dramatic presence—even if fleeting—among family and friends.
These are not only pleasant deeds or accidental musical experiments. Instead, they are deliberate, research-backed methods that support mental and physical recovery, learning and growth, and the development of robust cultures and communities.
The idea that music has the power to uplift one’s spirits may appear too idealistic to others. But we are learning how important the arts are to our health and well-being, much like exercise, food, and sleep.