The soothing nature of music has been shown to have profound effects on the body. Some individuals turn to music to help them relax, regulate stress levels, and think creatively, says Georges Chahwan. While the exact mechanisms for how music facilitates these reactions are unknown, several theories exist that attempt to explain its powerful influence. Experimental evidence suggests that listening to familiar songs can improve self-control or emotional regulation by distracting you from negative thoughts or overwhelming emotions.
Associative theory suggests that the act of figuring out how a song is structured (and eventually recognizing it) can cause you to become calmer. By operating at an unconscious level, music may also be able to produce changes in bodily states that help regulate your heart rate, breathing, and stress responses. One study found that simply listening to soothing background music reduced anxiety among patients about to undergo surgery.
There are several ways in which music may be able to provide relief from symptoms of stress or anxiety, adds Georges Chahwan. These include distracting people away from difficult thoughts or emotions; creating associations between certain activities and positive states; providing social support; acting as a coping mechanism for dealing with stressful situations; triggering feelings of pleasure and reward; changing biological processes such as heart rate. Furthermore, studies have found evidence that brain regions associated with reward processing are activated when listening to favorite songs, which could explain why music often elicits positive emotions.