How Music Soothes the Soul in Troubling Times

Santa Rosa Counselor Patty Bechtold writes about how music soothes the soul during troubling times, wiselifetherapy.com

Music soothes the soul.

A few days ago a wave of sadness hit me. I was standing in the kitchen, waiting for the kettle to boil. Thinking ragged thoughts and feeling pretty empty. Finding it hard to believe all that’s gone on in the world during the last few years. Because it wasn’t supposed to be like this. (At least, not in my world view.)

And without really being aware of it, my hand moved to my chest, resting there.

Just then a faint melody rose up, a sense memory of how music soothes the soul.

Tentatively I began to sing…

Nothing’s gonna harm you

Not while I’m around

Nothing’s gonna harm you

No sir, not while I’m around

Demons are prowling everywhere nowadays

I’ll send them howling, I don’t care, I’ve got ways

No one’s gonna hurt you

No one’s gonna dare

Others can desert you

Not to worry, whistle I’ll be there

Demons’ll charm you with a smile for a while

But in time

Nothing can harm you, not while I’m around

If you’re struggling with the state of the world right now, music might help.

Although most of us couldn’t foresee how the events of the past few years would play out, it’s pretty clear that it’s affecting our mental health: ongoing traumatic stress, heightened anxiety and depression, a sense of foreboding about an unknown future.

Thankfully, we all have music inside of us that soothes the soul, that comforts us. Music we can call upon in troubling times.

And the Stephen Sondheim song that appeared in my time of sadness? I’ve always loved it, maybe because it sounds like a lullaby to me. 

In the days since, I’ve been singing it a lot.

I see now that it reflects an inner part of me trying to reach out, a combination of the hopeful child and the wise, loving parent. 

And I know this part of me, and of you, is always present no matter how bad it gets or how far away we feel from it.

According to Psychology Today, there are three main ways music soothes the soul:

  • The sympathetic nervous system is suppressed while the parasympathetic nervous system is heightened, indicating relaxation.
  • Blood flow volume tends to rise when listening to classical music, demonstrating a relaxing effect.
  • Body surface temperature rises after listening to both classical and healing music, signaling greater relaxation.

You probably have your own sense memory of how music soothes the soul.

Although a lot has been written about the types of music that are particularly soothing, right now the most important question is: What music soothes the soul of you?

When I ask clients this question, the answers are as unique as each person. So if you can, take  time to remember the music that has touched or comforted you in some way in the past.

Sometimes music soothes the soul because it’s linked to a particular experience.

For instance, I have a strong memory of a holiday that I spent alone, and the three songs that comforted me and helped me feel less alone.

At the time I made a playlist of these songs, and I still listen to them each year when this holiday rolls around. They remind me that music soothes the soul because it meets me in the moments of pain and sorrow, and also takes me forward to other feelings that are waiting in the wings: hope, love and belonging, to name a few.

Three ways to explore the healing powers of music right now.

Depending on how much time you have, you could try one or more of these.

  1. Search online for “healing music” or “soothing music.” Don’t search too long, and then when you find something, stop what you’re doing and settle in to listen. Even five minutes can be helpful. Or you might want to have the music playing in the background as you go about your day.
  2. Make a playlist of three to five songs that you know comfort and soothe you. You can even choose songs, like I did, that reflect a transition from sorrow to hope, or whatever feelings continuum you find yourself on these days. Listen to your playlist several times a day.
  3. Finally, go back in time and create a musical autobiography of your life in song. This will take some time, but it can be a very meaningful and deep experience, another angle from which to view your life, especially helpful during times of transition.

*****

Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart
― Pablo Casals

This blog post was updated on 2/29/24.

Patty Bechtold

Patty Bechtold

Welcome. I'm a Santa Rosa therapist and life coach, and I help women who feel like something’s missing in their lives or themselves. I specialize in self-esteem, anxiety, depression, grief, life transition, and women's groups. On this blog I write about different approaches to help you find your way back to your deepest wisdom. Thank you for being here.