We all love our comfort music. The tracks that make us feel something. Whether it be the songs that remind you of the happiness you felt at a party, or the sadness and depravity of a hard break-up.
Music is an expression of the mind and an exploration of the mental state. As an exchange of emotions and ideas between the artist and listener, music allows us to express feelings we may not know how to. When given the choice, most will choose the tracks they know best because they know how it makes them feel. Research into the effect of music on our mind and emotions has shown we listen to the music we know and love because our brains respond with a healthy balance of chemicals and hormones. It allows us to remain in a realm of emotional safety, a space where we know and understand how a song will make us feel and where we feel comfortable knowing we’re in control.
However, in those odd occasions where we venture out of our comfort zones into the unexplored lands of new music, we can often feel distressed, uncomfortable and like we are wasting our time.
This is because our brains process ‘the new’ by releasing dopamine that inhibits a negative response to ‘the new’. Just like how the excitement of a new car or starting a new job can make us ecstatic with joy or sick with anxiety, the brain doesn’t know how to process that which is unfamiliar.
‘But if our brains don’t like new music, then why bother? Surely this is a warning sign?’ you may ask.
Yet, by breaking down the barriers that our brains build in response to new music, the initial feelings of discomfort are swept away by the exhilarating excitement of the new. By opening the door to the unknown, you enable yourself to explore the uncharted lands of your mind, and with exploration comes understanding.
Overtime, as new music becomes familiar, our brains check the initial chemical imbalance of the unknown and pull it into the realm of familiarity and an emotional sense of safety. From this, new music is extremely beneficial in managing your mental health. By guiding us down a path of greater understanding, new music can open up the ability to answer the questions you ask yourself daily, strengthening your ability to manage the spectrum of emotions we all feel on a day to day basis.
By engaging you in an active analysis of yourself, new music grounds you in the present. Exploring new genres and artists can act as a way of informal meditation; an escape from the stresses and confusion of modern life. Whether you’re listening to the angst and chaotic energy of Nirvana, or the melancholic chime of the Smiths, new music ultimately allows you to express yourself in ways that the old or familiar may not offer.
In a world shaped by Covid, none of us can take a gap year out and travel to Thailand to ‘find ourselves’ but exploring new music may allow you to expand your mind and understanding of yourself from the comfort of your own home.