Last weekend, I decided to turn on some Christmas music to try to get into the "Christmas spirit." I used to listen to music fairly frequently, but from some reason I rarely turn on the radio when I'm doing things around the house. (In the car, I listen to the news and talk radio on NPR). I guess that's why I'd forgotten how strongly certain music can affect my emotions.
It's not just me. There is a large body of research demonstrating that music affects people's moods. (It's also been shown to impact physical health). Even without the research though, haven't we all had some personal experience with this? Maybe you've heard a sad love song after a bad break up and had to change the radio station immediately or risk bursting into tears. Or maybe you like to put on something calming like jazz or classical to help you relax after a stressful day. Perhaps when you hear a great new song with an irresistible beat you are suddenly overcome with an overwhelming urge to start dancing. Maybe you've been driving along mindlessly when some old song from years ago triggers a sudden wave of nostalgia and transports you back to a long-forgotten moment in time. Music just has that effect on people.
A lot of my patients need help learning to cope with situations that induce strong negative emotions (or learning to cope with strong negative emotions that seem to arise spontaneously for no identifiable reason). Often I'll work with patients to generate a list of coping strategies that they can pull from in a crisis. From inner city teenage boys to prestigious military officers, almost every patient I've ever helped to create one of these lists includes "listening to music" as one of their coping skills. It seems that the impact of music on emotional experience is universal to the human condition.
When I put on a Christmas album this weekend I was doing some work around the house. I wasn't really paying much attention to the music until the song "Someday at Christmas" started to play. Suddenly, a bolt of emotion surged from my stomach to my chest. I stopped what I was doing. For a moment I felt...full. Though it lasted only a moment, it was easily the most intense emotional experience I'd had in months.
If there is anyone out there who, like me, forgot how moving a good song can be then please, allow me to remind you. This is the perfect time of year for remembering...