Written in line with BBC Music Day on 28th September 2018, this post considers the impact music can have on our mental health.
Music can have a great impact on mood, energy, enjoyment and motivation. It is frequently used in our day to day lives to help set a tone or add ambience to an environment.
From serene and relaxing, to romantic, to upbeat or even chilling and frightening.
In so much of our day to day lives, often with our barely noticing it, music is present and might be affecting how we are thinking, feeling, expressing ourselves
A Personal Experience With Music
I have always found that listening to music or having a good sing (usually when no one is listening!) can affect my mood.
Music can lift me with happy and upbeat tunes; perhaps causing nostalgia. Likewise, sad songs and music can sometimes help me to process a low mood or have a cry.
I enjoy music and I love the way it can have such an impact at a deeper and more emotive level.
The impact that music can have on our mental health is also an area that has scientific backing.
Music therapy is now a recognised tool in helping to treat and manage a range of mental health conditions.
So how and why can music help us?
Music And Our Mental Health
Listening to music we enjoy has been found by recent research to increase dopamine levels in our brains by up to 9%.
Dopamine is a chemical that can help set good moods so this evidence demonstrates that music is inextricably linked to our deepest reward systems.
The type of music we listen to is not significant, as long as it is music we enjoy.
Research using brain imagery found that listening to music stimulates a wide range of areas of the brain, giving the brain a full ‘workout’ and this research found that this was the case whether the person was listening to Vivaldi or the Beatles!
In this way, listening to music can reduce depression and even chronic physical pain by up to 25%.
Perhaps this finding of physical as well as mental health benefits from listening to music is not surprising as our physical and mental health are so interlinked.
If we are helping our mental health by reducing physiological stress levels, then we will have overall health improvements and perhaps be better able to cope with physical symptoms.
Formal music therapy in the treatment of mental health has been found to have the following health benefits:
- Increase personal motivation
- Assist with the expression of emotion
- Help a person to develop better communication skills
- Increase self-awareness and self-esteem
- Help a person make positive changes.
Music therapy is used and has been found to benefit a range of conditions:
In people with autism it is found that there is often a heightened interest in and response to music and it can be used to help the development of communication skills.
Depression is found to improve with music and formal music therapy can increase responsiveness to anti-depressants.
Music has been found to help improve sleep in older adults and children. Relaxing music can help increase the speed at which a person gets to sleep and can reduce sleep disturbances and subsequently also reduce daytime dysfunction.
In people with dementia music can reduce aggressive or agitated behaviour, improve mood and reduce the overall dementia symptoms.
What Is Driving The Benefits Of Music On Our Mental Health?
In terms of expression of emotion and communication – songs are so often used to relay and communicate a depth of emotions.
We hear countless love songs or sad songs on our radio or television daily. The emotions being communicated here are such that people struggle to otherwise relay or fear being ridiculed if they were to proclaim them in another format.
Songs we hear can also help us process things that have happened to us in our lives or difficult feelings.
Why are some of Adele’s songs so popular?
Her songs such as ‘Someone like You’ or ‘Hello’ have broken sales records worldwide.
Writing her songs, Adele admits, was her way to process her feelings around her relationships but in doing so her music and words resonated with so many. People now use them to help understand what they are going through or help them acknowledge their emotions, while understanding that they are not the only ones to have felt like this.
Regarding the use of music in helping people with dementia, music can evoke vivid autobiographical memories in us.
Hearing an old song from the past can trigger memories of sights, sounds and feelings of the past and these memories evoked by music are found to be more detailed and vivid than seeing an image of a face from the past. This memory response to music is present in us all but is more powerful in women than in men.
Some who care for a person with dementia have found that using music from the person’s past can help them to remember times gone by and for a while return them to a former version of themselves.
The Impact Of Singing On Our Mental Health
Listening to music can help a person’s health but singing as part of a singing group is also of proven benefit to our mental health.
Research has found that being part of a singing group can reduce anxiety, stress and depression in a person with mental ill health.
People who have taken part in such groups have reported feeling less lonely, have increased confidence and self-worth and are overall happier and less anxious, while improvements in memory and concentration are demonstrated.
There are also self-reports from those who join a singing group that they need to utilise less mental health services overall as a result.
Physically, we also know that singing can improve our immune systems and overall health.
Music and singing can have a great impact on our mental health and consequently our physical health too.
I could not go through the day without listening to music and having an (often quite bad) sing along to the radio or warble away in the shower. This music in my life can certainly impact on my mood and emotions. With the information I have found here I will now ensure that I include more music in my life too, knowing that it is potentially having a deeper impact on my health than I had realised.
Have you found music to be of benefit to you?
Sources of Information
*Images sourced from Pexels.com