Is It Time to Prescribe 80's Music for a Stressed Out Culture?

Want A Better Life? Listen To 80’s Music. Here’s Why…

80’s Rebellion Downtown LA. Flock of Seagulls Band. (07/08/23 photo by Patrick Holmes Photography)


By Reef Karim

July 13, 2023


Yes, I’m serious.

As a humanistic psychiatrist, transformational scientist, and avid retro music lover, I pondered this question.

In our over-stimulated and stressed-out culture, could listening to 80’s pop music be a viable solution for better mental health?

Not as a substitute for therapy, psychopharmacology, or trauma work, but as a preventative measure for stress reduction and autonomic stability.

Could Duran Duran, The Pet Shop Boys, Aha, Flock of Seagulls, Men Without Hats, Wham, Erasure, Alphaville, Pat Benatar, Spandau Ballet, Culture Club, Bronski Beat, Blondie, Wang Chung, Depeche Mode, and so many other 80’s bands, help us clear our minds, relax (Frankie Goes to Hollywood), and even stave off, or diminish debilitating symptoms, momentarily, or long-term?

I recently went to an 80’s Rebellion Outdoor Event in Downtown LA with the bands: When In Rome, Flock of Seagulls, Men Without Hats, and Dramarama, and as I was singing along to every catchy chorus, enjoying the melodies, and feeling the feel-good dopaminergic, serotonergic, and oxytocin surges within, I got to thinking about our current culture and our relationship to music.


I’m not alone in thinking about the power of 80’s music.

A Turkish survey study compared 80’s music with many other genres of music (60’s, 70’s rock, 90’s R&B, Dubstep, Techno, Metal, and others) in measuring subjective and objective stress reduction including blood pressure alteration and pulse changes.

The researchers looked at 1540 adults, ages 18–65, with volunteers undergoing mental stress tests while listening to Spotify playlists of different types of music.

60’s Oldies
70’s Rock Albums
90’s R&B
Techno Music
Heavy Metal
80’s Jams

And what did they find?

Of all the genres, 80’s music had the most stress reduction; with decreased blood pressure in 96% of the volunteers and a drop in heart rate in 36% of the volunteers.

Those numbers are pretty crazy.

The volunteer’s subjective experience included feeling less anger, feeling more relaxed, feelings of nostalgia, more positivity, and an overall “feel good” response.

Compare that to techno music which increased blood pressure in the participants and seemed to aggravate mood, and Dubstep which also increased BP and HR. And surprisingly, heavy metal which showed decreases in both blood pressure and heart rate, but at a lower rate than 80’s music.

What does this mean?

That 80’s music could be a good on-the-spot stress reducer and mood intervention.

For all you skeptics and critics, yes, this is just a survey study and wasn’t that robust or high tech, but it still provided some very interesting results.

We may need a dose of 80’s music STAT in our world right now.


What does music do for us?

Music therapy, the clinical use of music, has been a therapeutic modality in mental health care to help people cope, reduce stress, stabilize mood, and connect more deeply.

I founded, operated, and owned a mental health center in Los Angeles and we developed an entire creative and existential program for people to grow and expand, after moving past their initial crisis.

Most mental health and addiction centers are simply crisis centers.

But, there’s so much healing and optimization that can happen beyond the initial crisis.

I believe that enhancing cognitive flexibility, through creative interventions, is an important part of optimizing mental health; both for mental health impairment and to elevate human performance.

Because we have to envision something new before we can begin to implement it in our life (an idea, a relationship, a product, service, new profession, transformation, etc.) We can learn to connect, express, and regulate our emotions better through the metaphor of music.

Music therapy is known to help with many physical and mental health conditions, and help with memory, lower blood pressure, reduce stress, improve self esteem, improve self-reflection, increase motivation, and more.


What do we all want as humans?
It’s not that complicated.
To be loved.
To feel accepted.
To feel seen and heard.

Which is why so many old school songs were about love and loss; the core element of being human.

Over time, music became more about expression; expressing your point of view or sharing your upbringing and hardships in the world.

A type of social commentary through music.


Now, here’s where my fun 80’s music article gets a bit controversial.

What is the purpose of music and should we prioritize some music over others, depending on our environment?

In other words, during time of war, great stress, indecision, or negativity, would certain music be better for our outlook than others?

Not for the purpose of taste, or consumerism, but for our own mental health? To improve a stressed out, often uninspired, world.

I’m not talking about limiting access or editing or deleting here.
I’m just encouraging listening to music that can leave us in a better state of mind.

Is the best music social commentary on violence, corruption, and how difficult the world is? Or is the best music about core elements of love and loss? Or about the beat? Or about harmonies and melodies? Or about a catchy chorus?

Personally, I’ve always been fascinated by music trends and what music becomes popular during what era.

I loved 50’s rockabilly even though it was way before my time.
I liked the 60’s even though it was before my time.
I definitely connected to 70’s rock and disco and was sad to see the day in my home town of Chicago at Comiskey Park when apparently disco “died”.

And I loved, and continue to love, the 80’s.

When my friends describe me, they say…

“He was big in the 80’s with his hair, bright outfits, and Casio keyboard. Then it got kind of weird. Now I guess he’s back in style again”

I never left the 80’s and the 80’s never left me.

Why? Not just because I love the music, but because I love the melody, harmony, synth, and raw sing-along positivity of the hooks and chorus.

And the shoulder pad jackets.

In the 90’s it was about hip hop and rap (with some grunge thrown in) and that hip-hop craze lasted a long long time.

Hip Hop and Rap shared a lot more raw pain, suffering, violence, and a perspective that often wasn’t shared before, at least in popular music.

But, I ask this question, do we need more reminders of that now?


The world is a challenging place.

I would offer that our culture which strongly encourages consumption and conformity, pulls us further away from our passion and purpose. I’ve often said, if you are stuck in a state of only reacting to your environment, the world can become a toxic and limiting place to your existential growth.

Which is why so many people feel stuck. And stagnant.

It’s also why so many people seem stuck in a victim mentality.

Because it’s easy to identify as a victim when you’re making decisions from your environment and not your soulful experience.

With that in mind, in this potentially toxic and limiting environment, do we want to be reminded of the darkness, negativity, and chaos, over-and-over again in our music?

Like a constant stream of bad television news.

Similar to the news, this is what much of our current music does; revealing truth about the hardships, complications, complexity, and negativity of life.

I made the decision to stop watching the news and stop filling my mind with negativity. I wanted to leave room for original thought and creative energy instead of cluttering my mind with gossip, polarization, and negativity. (that’s another future article).

And now, let’s get back to music.

Should we encourage people to limit the negativity that enters our mind?
Like a type of gatekeeper, or bouncer.

So that we have more room for optimism, positivity, and an expanded perspective that comes from within?

Even if that’s not one’s current environmental reality?

Hope and optimism are very powerful feelings.

I made the decision to listen to music that inspires me, fills me with positivity, energizes me, and gets me moving. A simpler type of music.

Because I know the world is a stressful, negative, complex place.

I don’t need to be reminded of that.

You could call it an escape of sorts, but I call it an active intervention for optimism, and to protect my mind from too much negativity.

For prevention. For stress reduction. For mood stabilization.

Which is why I listen to more retro 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.
Yes, there’s nostalgia. But there’s also a simplicity to it.
And a more feel-good sound.

Hanging Out Back Stage With Efren Ramirez From Napoleon Dynamite (Pedro)




Why do many people still love the Beatles, or Elvis, or 60’s Bands, or Disco, or 80’s music, or the modern-day artists who have a retro flair to their musical composition, lyrics, melodies, harmonies, or the chorus of their songs?

The songs are catchy, and about the common human experience of love and loss. This is immediately relatable. And quite simple.

The ideal song doesn’t have to be pollyanna fake positive thing.

It should be real, but perhaps moving toward where we want to go in the world instead of the trauma and pain of our past and where we’ve been.

I mean, what is personal development?
Moving past our past to discover a better future.


80’s Rebellion Los Angeles. Men Without Hats Band. Photographer Patrick Holmes.

I was inspired to write this article because I looked around the 80’s Rebellion crowd in LA and saw what the music was doing to people.

No fights. Lots of connection. A feel-good collective.
Nostalgia. Stress Reduction. Mood Enhancement.
All happening in the moment and for most, the lack of mind altering substances as well.


Yes, artists should speak their truth.

But perhaps, we as the listening audience, should filter what kind of music we let into our minds, our energy, our consciousness.

To not get stuck in a victim mentality, but instead to foster a more open, optimistic mentality of possibility.

Just like what opinions and news we choose to enter our mind.

I leave you with this.

What kind of soundtrack do you want to create for your life?
Or dare I say, what music will motivate your future?

And consider this, could your music listening habits help or hinder your ability to live a better life?

When we are less stressed, and more optimistic, we are more likely to make choices that move us toward prosperity and well-being.

When we continue to hear about violence, conflict, negativity, and pain, that stimuli WILL have an impact on our vision, energy, and well-being.


Baby Dream Listening To 80’s Music


My baby Dream gets to choose the car ride home music when I pick him up from pre-school. I have introduced him to Elvis, the Beatles, Disco, Folk, 80’s, EDM, Hip-Hop, Classical, Country, and many other genres.

What music does he request the most?

You guessed it, 80’s music! (with Elvis a close second)

Looks like he’s already building out his stress management program.

So next time you’re feeling down, stressed, or just want to do a little personal growth, turn on some 80’s music.

You can thank me later.

Dr. Reef Karim is a humanistic psychiatrist, transformational scientist, award winning performer, AND an avid retro 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s lover. Dr. Reef founded the Mad Genius Brand (, and hosts, writes, acts, and speaks on television, podcasts, and stages all over the world ( Reef blends existentialism, creative disruption, psychology, and neuroscience to help people elevate their performance and human experience in a world that feels toxic and limiting.

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