It probably only takes a few seconds to think of a song or album that got you through a tough time in your life. Or a killer playlist you always listen to when you’re getting ready to go out. A movie soundtrack that moved you, or that unforgettable moment during a music festival.
Music entertains us. It transports us. Connects us. But did you know that on top of all that, music can also trigger significant psychological benefits?
That’s because your brain actually has to work to process music - and the connections it makes are the equivalent of performing mental gymnastics. Even more so if you’re the one creating the music.
All that brain activity can have a huge impact on your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, giving your mental health a much-needed boost. In this article, we’ll dive deeper into how music can help your mental health and some tips on how to make the most of these benefits.
We’re all music lovers here. If you’ve ever blown off steam by dancing the night away or cried your eyes out to an emotional song, you already know that music can truly change how you feel.
Whether you already listen to or play music, or you’re exploring the possibility of professional music therapy, here are some of the benefits to keep in mind:
For many people, music serves as a temporary escape from negative emotions. If you’re feeling low and you listen to cheerful music, you can slowly transition your mood to mirror it. This mirroring process is known as emotional mimicry and can give your nervous system a break from the weight of your troubles.
In non-severe cases, music can even be used to help treat anxiety and depression. For example, a 2019 study showed that university students who listened to classical music every day significantly reduced their anxiety levels.
This is because listening to music we enjoy triggers the release of neurotransmitters that regulate our mental well-being, also known as happiness chemicals. These include dopamine (the pleasure hormone), serotonin (the natural mood stabilizer), and oxytocin (the love hormone).
Studies also show that music activates parts of the brain that connect emotions and memory. So if you listen to a song, album, or playlist that reminds you of a good time in your life, you can recreate those feelings in the present.
Try this: If you’d like to experience these therapeutic benefits for yourself, give deep listening a try. We usually listen to music while doing other things, like driving, working, or cleaning. Deep listening is when you give music your full attention and experience its effect on your breathing, heart rate, and emotions in a more mindful way.
Everyone always talks about how it is healthy to feel your feelings and work through them but that’s often easier said than done.
Sometimes when you’re going through a difficult time in life, it can be really hard to express yourself. Other times, it’s a struggle to even understand what you’re feeling inside. This is especially true if you don’t have access to an understanding support system or therapy.
If you don’t feel comfortable sharing what you’re going through or can’t find the words to express how you feel, music can help. It can act as a vehicle to help you process strong emotions, like grief or heartbreak for example.
Try this: Put on a song that speaks to you and sing your heart out. That way, you can externalize your emotions without having to speak about your own situation. If you can play an instrument like the guitar, strum a tune and work through your feelings using non-verbal expression.
Lyric analysis can also help you find clarity about your own situation as well as ways to talk about it through someone else’s words, or your own if you’re a songwriter yourself.
Sound can have a huge impact on our ability to concentrate and be productive. Some people swear by studying or working while listening to music, while others find it incredibly distracting.
However, most research agrees that music can help people shift into a flow state by increasing Alpha brain wave activity which is typically linked to cognitive performance.
One of the reasons for this is that music activates both the left and right brain at the same time, stimulating our capacity for learning and forming memories. Other studies show that music with a tempo of 60 beats per minute is particularly good for boosting your brain’s ability to process information.
Music can also act as a motivational boost to carry out less interesting or repetitive tasks by providing us with extra stimulation. Bunch of admin tasks lined up for the day? Boring. Doing a bunch of admin tasks listening to minimal techno on repeat? A vibe.
Try this: Experiment with different genres to find out what kind of music helps you focus best. Instrumental and classical music are usually popular choices since many people find lyrics distracting, and others love ambient beats or nature sounds.
Relaxation and quality sleep are indispensable when it comes to improving your mental health. If you are feeling stressed, listening to music can be an affordable and accessible way to help you unwind.
When we get stressed, our blood pressure and heart rates go up, as well as a hormone called cortisol. Studies show that listening to music can lower all three, leaving you in a physically and physiologically more relaxed state.
Music may also have the power to actually heal you. You might have seen that surgeons often put music on during an operation so that they can focus better, but that same music can also reduce the pain patients feel and speed up their recovery.
Insomnia is another common problem that affects up to 70 million people in the US every year. Listening to music you find calming can help you let go of the tension of the day, calming the muscles of the body, and relaxing enough for you to fall asleep.
Try this: Create a night-time routine that incorporates music that you find relaxing and see how it impacts your ability to unwind. Most studies suggest that you should listen to music with a tempo of between 60-80 BPM because the average resting heart rate lies between 60-100 BPM and in theory, our bodies should sync up with the tempo of the music to lull us into sleep.
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