• Camilla Coakley, LCSW

How Your Playlist Can Change Your Life


"Next to love, music is the best solution to any problem. Music feeds the heart with what it needs in the moment."

I was digging through my ebooks and remember this great one: Your playlist can change your life By: Mindlin, Durouseau & Cardillo.

I am a huge fan of using music as a therapeutic tool to feeling good!

Many of you already know that turning on a song you love can uplift you, make you smile, calm you down, destress you, energize you and bring back memories. But it can actually do much much more.

According to the authors music has scientifically been proven to "heighten your level of peak performance and achieve better health and harmony in your day-to-day living." Music can make your mind flow, keep your mind flowing, increase your alertness, make you happy, alleviate anxiety, sharpen you memory, improve your mood, help you live more creatively.

"Historically, rhythm, music and song have been used as a way to tune the mind, to heal the body, and to strengthen the spirit."

In the book: Your Playlist Can Change Your Life, the authors go into detail on how to use music (playlists) to "cleanse your mind of negative thoughts and emotions, making it easier to reach your goals, maintain alertness, and achieve an all encompassing calm."

I have used the information in this book to help myself and my clients focus better, become more alert, feel more relaxed and feel less anxious and feel more motivated.

Years ago I led a music therapy group amongst veterans at the VA Hospital where veterans chose their favorite songs. They would make mix cds with their playlist to help calm their minds and elevate their moods. You could tell who my clients were because they were all donned portable cd players and they all had a smile on their faces!

In recent history music as a treatment modality has become more widely used in hospitals world wide. Music has been proven to relieves anxiety better than drugs. One study proved that listening to music resulted in less anxiety and lower cortisol levels among patients about to undergo surgery than taking anti-anxiety drugs. Other evidence showed music has an impact on antibodies linked to immunity and may lead to higher levels of bacteria-fighting immune cells.

How can music be more effective than drugs at relieving anxiety?

Music can induce a psychosomatic reaction in the body because it can cause a spike in the release of brain chemicals and hormones. In a tense movie scene with scary music you get a dose of norepinephrine, the hormone associated with stress and anxiety. But if the music is a calm relaxing you brain is washed in dopamine, which is one of your body's natural feel good hormones.

"In terms of calming power, dopamine is no placebo -- in fact, any of the chemicals washing over your brain is powerful enough to require a license to prescribe. If you were to scan your brain during a cascaded release of dopamine brought on by your listening to a favorite tune, the likeness to a scan of a person using cocaine would be uncanny."

By using songs that induce the release dopamine in your brain (the songs you love) you can train your brain to be in a more relaxed state by playing those songs before or during those events that would normal cause you anxiety. In this sense, you can use music to reprogram your brain to have a different response and when done over time the anxiety invoking event will no longer cause you to be as anxious.

Physical symptoms linked to chronic stress and anxiety will also be relieved by calming your mind through music. People who suffer with IBS, Crohns disease, muscle tension, headaches, eczema etc... can help find relief to these condition by using music induce calming brain chemicals that ease anxiety relax the mind and body.

What music is best for reducing anxiety?

Any music that you know induces a sense of calmness in you is the music you need to calm your mind and body; nature sounds work well too! Many people love the Spa station. The authors recommend the piano instrumental version of Hikaru's "First Love". There is research demonstrating that listening to Mozart "reduces anxiety, balances the mind and improves overall performance skills for most people". I personally love Saguaro Sunset by R. Carlos Nakai and 3 Gymnopedies: Gymnopedie No. 1, by Erik Satie, Pascal Roge. The most important thing is for you to choose music that you like! and then pay attention when you listen to how it makes you feel in my mind and in your body. Noticing and pay attention while listening to music is actually a mindfulness based exercise with further helps to reduce stress and anxiety.

Music should be a part of your workouts, too.

Plenty of people instinctively listen to their favorite music when working out or going for a run; this makes sense since certain types of music can motivate you to run faster, or keep going despite feeling fatigued, which give you a better workout. This is not just an anecdotal experience, research has shown that listening to music while exercising has been shown improve performance. Exercising to music can increase your endurance by 15 percent. Your movement actually follows the beat and tempo of the song you are listening to. One study found that when the music's tempo slowed, the subjects' exertion level was reduced. On the flip side, when the tempo increased, their performance improved. Perhaps its a combination of your body responding to the beat on a subconscious level and at the same time the music you choose while exercise may also be influencing your conscious motivation.

What music is best for exercising?

Whichever a songs get you energized and rearing to go, you'll know it, and these are the types of songs you will instinctually add to your workout playlist.

Selecting music is a highly personal – and highly intuitive – process. Only you know the “best” music for you, and these musical choices become an evolution of sorts. As you discover new music, as you grow, as you experience life events tied to music– not only day to day with your mood, but also over time with the different chapters of your life, you will create more and more playlists that can be used for working out, for chilling out and as a therapeutic tool!

I use music as a form of therapy in my private practice.

Whenever possible I love to incorporate music into my sessions with clients. Part of the work I do with some clients is to encourage them to take the time to make playlists that help them in all areas of their life. I then instruct them on how to use these playlist as a therapy tool. Playlist music therapy takes repetition but overtime listening to music in this way can reprogram the brain. As discussed earlier, some of the ways playlist therapy can help is to alleviate anxiety, calm the mind and body, to increase focus and alertness, to motivate and transition, and/or to increase exercise performance. Equipping clients with a therapy that they can use anywhere and at anytime is hugely beneficial. My clients know they have a tool that can help them get through even the most stressful of days.

Technology has made millions of songs available to us with a click of a button. Follow me on Spotify to check out what I am listening to. And check out the book: Your Playlist Can Change Your Life.


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West Chester, PA
Wayne, PA
Online Therapy: California, Pennsylvania, International
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©2019 camilla coakley, LCSW #26638 - soundmind/soundbody