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Bloom Vol 21: Music and Emotional Intelligence

In this week’s Bloom, mental health advocate and musician Alex Wagner explores how music can help us further our emotional intelligence

Previously, I discussed how making time to “date” ourselves can pave the way for increasing our emotional intelligence.

It is a key to understanding “you” as a human. Humans are driven by emotion.

Heightening your emotional intelligence improves your ability to respond to different situations optimally.

To know why you feel the way you do, without mystery; meaningful action to better your well-being can take place with clarity.

Once you’ve been dating yourself for a while, you begin to understand the tiny nuances and narratives in your mind that cause subsects of the emotion you are feeling.

Suddenly, you identify the core reasons why you feel the way you are from a trauma-informed perspective that sees the origins of the moment you are in. You understand your triggers, the characters in your mind that voice themselves up to steer you off course.

Self-care and self-love are parts of regulating our emotional state and are portals to understanding value.

Self-worth is valuing our existence.

If we value our existence, we have stability, and we have the grounding in diving into more advanced layers of our emotional self and the emotional states of those around us.

It’s understandable if we might be feeling stuck with ourselves, how to get in touch with ourselves and reach inner clarity.

Music is a fantastic gateway to improving our emotional intelligence.

Music can queue us to feel and experience emotional states practically on a dime through associations we make with the music.

This all begins because of where music is processed in the brain–it includes the pre-frontal cortex and the cerebellum.

For example, a summer pop smash played on a sunny day in July may open up the floodgates for a wealth of happiness, and the same might even happen in December. You’ve connected that song with positive sentiment.

Music can trigger psychological processes that reflect emotion: “happy” music triggers the zygomatic muscle for smiling, together with an increase in skin conductance and breathing rate, whereas “sad” music activates the corrugator muscle.

Music gets more than our minds moving, it stimulates the body, and, in turn, these reactions our body has reinforce certain emotions, or cogs in the emotional processing machine.

Music does for us what words sometimes cannot. It’s the combination of instruments, the tones that can shimmy their way into our hearts, open them up when otherwise we might be closed off.

This moment can be leveraged to explore ourselves. What did you think of? Was there a person, a place, or did you think of something within yourself? What is the story behind your reaction to the song?

Have you ever listened to a specific song after a break-up and instantly felt sad, wallowing, depressed? Did you fight it, did you escape it with a tasty snack, a drink, or did you embrace it?

One big leap in this journey of greater emotional intelligence is acceptance.

Music grants us an opportunity to do so, to accept why we feel the way we do and what to do about it. It can penetrate our walls and get us to that raw place where we feel pain about a specific event.

Instead of running from a feeling, maybe we put the song on loop for a half hour. Perhaps we ask ourselves where the pain is coming from.

Sitting with the feeling for a long time, we sift away our biases and can observe an emotion, a set of emotions, more objectively without reacting.

Creating a feedback loop is vital for progress. Challenging ourselves to face these more difficult emotions helps us unpack them.

We cannot reach this observational plane with distraction. Here is a task: listen to music, eyes closed, without being in the background. Make the music the primary focus of the moment. Choose a song that unlocks a feeling within you, and sit for 15 minutes.

Suddenly, instead of just feeling “sad,” you might be able to say, “this song brings up a bit of disappointment I have with myself about how I acted. I was doubtful. I see this scenario, accept what happened, and understand that through awareness and different action, such a scenario will likely end favorably.”

Music is opening the door.

It’s our lock buster. Dynamite to Fort Knox.

Associating the exploration of emotional intelligence with an action, like listening to music alone in your room for 15 minutes “X” amount of days per week, gives you a safe space to grow.

Think about to the idea of “dating yourself”: you’re setting up a date to explore yourself through sound.

Music is medicine. It is a guide.

Press play.


About the Author

Photo: Sumit Dhungel

A dance music producer, singer, and songwriter, Alex Wagner (known by his music project ASW), was called an emerging artist to watch by DJ Mag in September of 2021. Currently signed to Tommie Sunshine’s Brooklyn Fire Records, he has also had multiple releases on Atlantic Records, remixing artists such as Galantis.

As a crisis counselor for Crisis Text Line and certified peer counselor with the state of Washington, he has organized multiple mental health awareness events called “Grooving for Good” leveraging the power of music and the arts. He currently resides in Seattle, Washington. You can follow him on Instagram at @asinglewave.