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Healing Music and Anxiety

November 24th, 2015 · Music and Anxiety, Music Healing

Healing music is such an easy and effective way of coping with anxiety…at least temporarily!  Anxiety is a pervasive problem in everyday life today.   Music of all kinds can have the healing effect that is so desperately needed and it is so easy to use!  This is not exactly news!  Healing music is actually music that makes you feel better and that has a healing effect on YOU and your body and your life.  People get confused about healing and exactly what the term means.  Healing is not CURING!  Healing is the amelioration or improvement of symptoms.

Now what is the definition of “anxiety?”  Webster’s Dictionary says that anxiety is “an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (as sweating, tension, and increased pulse), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.”

Now how might music be able to help with that sort of feeling?  How might music make a difference when you’re experiencing a sense of “impending doom?”  This is a very individual choice and there are several questions to ask yourself:

  • How has music helped to calm me in the recent past and what music was it?
    • Many people like movie themes from favorite movies with happy endings!
  • If I stop fidgeting and pacing and begin taking deep, rhythmic breaths, what music comes into my mind?
    • For me, Dvorak’s ‘Going Home’ from the New World Symphony comes to mind!
  • What are some of the pieces from my childhood that I sang at home or at school or at church, that I find comforting
    • Many people have told me that “Silent Night,” “Jesus Loves Me,” and even “Hush Little Baby,” have calmed them down when they are worrying about something over which they have no control.”

The ideal thing is to make a list of favorite calming music, when you’re NOT feeling anxious or worrying.  Then your brain is relaxed and freer to search around and come up with a dozen or so calming pieces.

Notice that these pieces or songs will likely have a slow to moderate tempo, be not very loud, have just one instrument or perhaps voice and one instrument, and likely have quite a bit of repetition.  Choosing to music to help calm emotions is both an art and a science, but when you’ve made yourself a great list, it will be absolutely invaluable to get you through tough times when you’d rather not take a pill or medication!

I really hope you’ll try this!

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Music stirs emotion: but how?

October 19th, 2015 · Emotional Pull of Music, Music and Emotion

Music stirs emotion, but do scientists really know how or why?  Does music make you feel emotional?  Of course it does!  But why does this happen and how can music stir up so many different emotions?  This is a question that we all ask ourselves from time to time.  We can innocently turn on the car radio, simply looking for distraction on our drive to or from work, and suddenly, there we are sobbing or tearing up, perhaps even laughing or smiling.

I had this experience, yet again, just a few weeks ago, driving home from watching a movie in the theater.  I had gone to see a decidedly un-sentimental movie and was rushing home to get back to work.  I absentmindedly turned up my car radio to hear some news.  I unexpectedly hit upon “The Prairie Home Companion,” which was almost over.  I really wasn’t paying a lot of attention to his words, when a piece of music started playing that instantly engaged me!  It was a simple piano piece to start with.  But something about the twists and turns of the melody and harmonies starting pulling powerfully at my emotions.  It released strong feelings of sadness and sorrow and deep regret.  I was so surprised because this was not a piece by a Master like Beethoven, Brahms or Chopin?  It was a very simple folk-like piece that drew on two things that I know that I respond to:  hymn-like chord progressions and modal melodies and harmonies.  There was an unmistakable wistfulness to it that made me just want to seriously boo-hoo, but also an immediate, accompanying feeling that I had to find out what this piece was and try to get either a recoding, or even better, the sheet music to it!!!

Later that night I went to the website for Prairie Home Companion and found a link to email the host.  I wrote to him, asking, imploring him to tell me what it was and where I might get a copy?  Honestly I didn’t much think I would hear back from him, but the following Tuesday, to my delight and amazement, there was an email from www.phc.com.  The lady said very nicely that they don’t sell recordings or sheet music, but directed me to the link on YouTube where I could find this!

Below is this treasured little waltz, “A Waltz for Caroline,” by the show’s pianist, Rich Dworsky.  Needless to say, I’ve become a huge fan of Rich Dworsky and am working my way through his other compositions on YouTube.  I’d love to know how YOU like and if it affects you as powerfully as it did me!!

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Healing Music with Depression and Anxiety

October 15th, 2015 · Healing Music, Music and Anxiety, Music and Emotion

Healing music is so easy to incorporate into your day, especially if you suffer from anxiety and depression!  Do you give yourself the recommended daily allowance of the music you love??  Most people listen to music on their car radios, their iPods, and their iPhones, but is it the music you really love the most?  Scientists, musicologists, music therapists, and performing musicians know that music is one of the easiest and most powerful ways to raise energy levels and increase all of those feel-good hormones that can change our moods in minutes!!  It is also very valuable with healing with depression and anxiety

Intention is everything!!  If you know the type of music that lifts your spirits and honestly makes you feel hopeful when you otherwise feel hopeless and glum, why not consciously choose to have that specific music at your fingertips 24/7?  That’s the beauty of our iPhones and iPods.  We can create 100’s of playlists of our favorite songs, pieces, show tunes, or Chopin etudes!!

Music has absolutely no negative side effects!  Although I feel that I may have had mild addictions to certain pieces of music, they usually resolve themselves after a couple of weeks.  There are certain songs/pieces that, if they come on the radio as I pull into my driveway, I simply cannot turn the car off until the entire piece is over!  Have you experienced that?  Music is as powerful as any drug, without the negative side-effects.  Before taking drugs for anxiety or depression, trying creating a new playlist of your favorite upbeat, energizing music.  There’s nothing wrong with taking anti-anxiety or depression medications, but the less, the better!

Here is one of my favorite upbeat songs:

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Healing Music comes in many forms

September 30th, 2015 · Healing Music, Music Healing, Music in the Hospital, Music Medicine, Surgery with Music

Alice and Heidi

Dr. Cash and colleague conduct a drumming and chanting workshop at the University of Louisville Alumni Center

Have you experienced the healing power of music?  Since the beginning of time, humans have been powerfully drawn to rhythm, to harmony and to melody.  The original “music” consisted of the sounds of nature:  waves lapping the shore, the wind through the pines and palms, the babbling brook and the gentle rain.

Today, every country has their own unique styles of music and some of it is likely to be healing for those people who grew up hearing it.  In order for music to be truly healing for someone, it must be soothing and comforting, and that usually means that it has some familiarity to it.

Music from far-away places on the globe can sometimes be very foreign to our ears.  For example, much much in India is written for instruments and voices that can produce quarter tones.  Our ears are not used to that sound and to me, it sounds kind of like “whining.”  For those that grew up with that tuning system, however, it is very beautiful and very emotional.

When I am putting together playlists for my Surgical Serenity Solutions, I try to choose music that is soothing and calming, but that also represents other cultures around the world, and other styles of music.  Our original playlist is classical piano music, but the pieces that I chose are mostly unfamiliar, because when one is going into surgery, one does not want to hear something that might possibly be connected to an unpleasant memory.

When I am asked to meet with a patient who is in pain or suffering emotionally, I need to know in advance, if possible, what kind of music they are drawn to and what kind of music they have enjoyed throughout their lives.  The music that I prefer is irrelevant, unless they just happen to like the same kinds of music that I do.  Many people tell me “No rap music, ” or “No country music,” or “No opera!”  I always think it’s interesting when people tell me first, which music they do NOT want to hear!  I think that’s because music is so powerful and so personal, we just don’t want to take a chance at having our ears bombarded with something we know we don’t like!!

What kind of music would YOU want to hear played in your hospital room, if you were feeling ill, in pain or emotionally distraught?  I”m hoping to make some new CDs soon and would love to make something that YOU like!

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NPR story on Music with Surgery documents the benefits!

August 13th, 2015 · Dangers of anesthesia, joint replacement surgery, Music and Dental Surgery, Music and Eye Surgery, Music and Surgery, out-patient surgery with music, Surgery with Music

Surgery with music is a topic that I’ve spent that last 25 years writing and speaking about.  It is such an easy yet powerful intervention for the patient who is filled with anxiety and dread

Now this wonderful meta-analysis has been published in the “Lancet,” a prestigious and highly respected British medical journal.  I would love for people to share this study on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or any other social media that you might use!  Thanks so much.  Our goal is to have the Surgical Serenity Solution in every operating room in the US by 2018, and every OR in the world by 2020!!  Help us achieve that goal!!  Thanks so much!

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Children and Pain: Study looks at Power of Music

July 30th, 2015 · Anesthesia Waking up, Music and Cancer, Music and Pain

Have you ever had a child in the hospital?  That alone is a painful and frightening experience for parent and child, but imagine if your child has to have surgery, and after surgery, is in pain.  As a mother of three and grandmother of four, I can’t imagine anything more frustrating for a parent.  No one wants to see their child in pain; but no one wants to see their child on heavy pain medicine either.

Researchers, who had a personal motive, (because of a previous positive experience with a hospitalized loved one) decided to do a specific study with hospitalized children.   They divided the children into three groups and allowed one group to choose their favorites from Miley Cyrus, etc.  Another group got to choose a favorite story being read through headphones.  The third group listened to silence through comfy, noise-cancelling headphones.

What do you think they found?  Let’s let NPR tell the story!!


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Our singing President!

June 29th, 2015 · Music Healing

Did you ever think you’d hear the President of the United States sing?  This is the 8th or 9th President in office since I was born in 1948, and I can’t think of a single President that I have heard burst into song, and do a great job of it!!

Supposedly, Harry Truman was a pretty good piano player and Bill Clinton played the saxophone, but who knew that Obama could sing like this?  It did seem to be like a healing balm that day at the funeral in Charleston, where Obama unexpectedly began singing, after delivering a beautiful eulogy.  Watch it for yourself and see what you think!

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Can music be a painkiller??

June 25th, 2015 · Music Healing, Music in the Hospital

Nearly every day, someone contacts me who is about to go to the hospital for a procedure of some kind. Most of these people are preparing to have surgery and have questions about how they can use music for the procedure.  Patients wonder, can music be a painkiller?  Pain is one of the many issues they are worried about, in addition to side-effects of anesthesia, side-effects of the surgical incision, and of course, fear that the surgery will not be successful.  As a therapist and a Music Medicine practitioner, I do everything I can to reassure patients with calm and affirming information and education about the process.  Music, however, is one of the easiest and safest ways to calm a patient, before, during and after surgery.

This week, NPR presented some new research on the use of music as a painkiller in the hospital.  Of course I was thrilled to see this, but I’ve taken it a step further!  Instead of putting music into the patient intravenously (which of course is impossible, but a makes for a cute picture!), most people give the patient an iPod or other wired MP3 device.  What we have done is to actually put the music INSIDE the headphones which allows the patient to listen with no cord attached to headphones, risking entanglement with IV, blood pressure cuff, or nurse call apparatus and bed movement control button!

As a clinical musicologist, I have spent the past 25 years of my career studying the anxiety and fear people experience prior to and after surgery.  Every day, people postpone or even cancel their much-needed surgery because they are so convinced that they won’t survive the procedure or the anesthesia. Now patients can buy our very successful, pre-loaded headphones and begin to relax to this music for weeks in advance if they want to!  See www.SurgicalSerenitySolutions.com

If I knew how to reach the people at #NPR, I would love to enlighten them!

In the meantime, suffice it to say, that if you’re experiencing pain from any part of your body, reach for some of your favorite soothing music!  You’ll be glad you did!!

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