Sounds Soothing: 6 Benefits of Music for Your Mental Health and Well-being
Men and women around the world use music to soothe their souls. Even if we don’t quite understand what’s going on at the time, the beats and rhythms call to us and they’ve been a regular remedy for longer than anyone can remember.
Today, more and more people are using music for mental health treatments and there have been many positive results.
Music therapy is almost cost-free, it involves no surgery or medication and once you figure out what concoction of sounds is good for your mind, it can work wonders.
Every year there are new findings on the benefits of music for your mental health and it’s incredible that an individual’s physical and mental well-being can be improved by something as simple as listening to good tunes.
There are several effects that music has on the brain. Chemicals like oxytocin and dopamine are lured out by satisfying sounds and they aren’t the only ones released when you find the right song.
LOWERS YOUR STRESS LEVELS
Credit: Mohammad Metri/Unsplash
As well as primarily being an obvious distraction from your troubles, music also cuts you a break by lowering your cortisol levels and therefore helping with stress relief.
Many people use music as their go-to form of escapism to balance out the anxiety in their lives. Music as therapy is very individual-centred, so what works for someone else, won’t necessarily work for you.
For example, listening to something that mirrors what you’re going through might currently be traumatic for you, but it might also be the skin-thickening ritual you need to overcome before you move on.
Depending on where you are on your journey, there may be a little trial and error involved.
If you’re looking for a vacation from what’s currently troubling you, listening to something with a completely different storyline or that’s set in another world might just be what you need. It’s almost like treating music as books for your ears.
A 2019 study found that college students who listened to classical music every day for two months saw a significant drop in their anxiety levels.
Similar results were seen in a 2016 experiment. This time, individuals with a fear of heights were placed in a virtual reality elevator simulator; half of them had music to ease their worries, while the other half did not.
INCREASES YOUR BRAIN'S CAPACITY AND CONNECTIONS
Credit: Florencia Viadana/Unsplash
Although it isn’t a muscle, the brain and its complicated internal connections behave as if they have a sort of muscle memory.
What we mean by this is that the more you use it, the stronger it gets. On the other side of that coin, if you stop using it for a time, or use it incorrectly, you will see a decline in function.
The reason we mention this is that playing and listening to music causes so many different parts of your brain to light up. Links are made between the left and right hemispheres and so much is going in there that the act of listening to certain songs/types of music can be akin to a workout for the mind.
Long-form engagement like classical music and nostalgia-based music sessions work well, even increasing brain capacity in some instances.
As you’d expect, the opposite can be found when the human mind is marinated in super short-form engagements like 30-second TikTok videos.
As well as offering none of the aforementioned benefits to music, studies have found that media presented in this manner exacerbates depression, anxiety and a reduction in working memory capacity.
So, put up your feet and enjoy that long-play album or that full symphony recording. Not everything in life can be resolved in five minutes or less.
Credit: jurien huggins/Unsplash
While your brain gets plenty of action from just listening to music, there are a few things you can do to enhance the experience further.
Don’t worry, they don’t cost anything and you don’t even need any additional equipment to partake. All you need is prompting, which your hands, feet and hips will naturally attempt to give you anyway.
Moving around, singing and dancing are all tools that make you feel better and can be used to battle a bad mood and even depression.
If you’re limited with what physical exercise you can undertake, enjoying your favourite music on multiple levels gets the blood pumping and the brain chemicals swirling around too.
These are all some of the first things that music therapists will suggest to use.
Another way to enhance your current mood or a frame of mind you’re trying to get into is what some call “deep” or “active” listening.
In the modern world, it’s very easy to be surrounded by too many stimuli and never absorb or enjoy anything properly. Instead of using music as background noise while you do other things, try sticking to just listening to something mood-enhancing without any other distractions.
Headphones are obviously a quick and easy way to get you into a nice little isolated bubble.
Although it doesn’t bother everyone, take care to not listen to the “wrong” type of music at the wrong times.
That hard-hitting rock track might complement your car journey and intense workout, but listening to it all day and night might be a bit much, especially when it’s time to eat dinner with the family or chill out before bed.
ENCOURAGES US TO FEEL THE FULL SPECTRUM OF OUR FEELINGS
Credit: Stefany Andrade/Unsplash
Music can guide us during times of self-reflection, frustration and even mourning.
When clients of music therapists are feeling down or struggling to manage their emotions, many are prescribed an earful of classical music. Due to the absence of lyrics, the listener projects their personal feelings into the music, which allows for easier analysis.
A method of mourning that has been used for decades is listening to certain songs on repeat to “get it all out”.
Those who haven’t employed this strategy may have looked on in horror, but it seems there is a method to the madness after all.
A 2014 study found that listening to “sad” music can in fact make you experience pleasant emotions. Not just as a tempering technique against future grief, but also to prove that it’s natural to feel worse before you can feel better.
Credit: Rifqi Ali Ridho/Unsplash
Listening to music is a fantastic way of expanding your self-expression, in more ways than one. If you’re having difficulty finding the right way to explain how you feel to someone else, or even just yourself, the magic of music can often help.
When you’re growing up, pressing play and learning that someone else has been in the same situation as you (and that they survived) can be a very comforting thing, especially if there’s a catchy tune accompanying it.
Once someone who’s been there and done that has given you the words, you can arm yourself with your own version and express exactly how you feel.
Don’t worry if you’re not actually musical yourself. You can listen to music to inspire your self-expression and creativity in other areas; be it drawing, painting, writing, or whatever you do.
The right song can grab you and take you to another world, fill you with another feeling or even just clear your mind so your art can flow out of you uninterrupted.
If you want to go that extra mile and learn an instrument, take your pick. Whichever you choose to study, you’ll achieve goals, attain a sense of mastery, and even develop or bolster your self-esteem.
BUILDS CONNECTIONS WITH OTHER PEOPLE
Credit: Aranxa Esteve/Unsplash
Music has always had a social element to it and it hopefully always will.
Before electricity, singers and musicians drew crowds in public squares and halls. Today, live concerts are everywhere and we have more music festivals than we have days in the year.
As well as giving you and your school or work mates something to bond over, the music performed at these events is the reason many strangers met and became the best of friends.
Thanks to the booking of support bands, gigs have also been a way to expose punters to other artistes.
Music festivals possess these abilities too, just in greater quantity. The range of acts and genres present over multiple stages and days only increases the musical diversity of the clientele; which is a good way of discovering you have something in common with someone you wouldn’t necessarily expect to.
When the internet first came into use, everyone around the globe was suddenly able to find and converse with fellow fans of the most niche, independent artistes in the comfort of their own homes.
While there is an argument for the potential of this causing reclusive behaviour, modern tour sizes and ticket sales would beg to differ. The low-cost reach of the internet provides big and small names with the benefit of being able to advertise wider than just postering their local area.
With the combination of the busy live music scene and the connectivity of the internet, it couldn’t be easier to make like-minded friends with a similar interest in music; whether that’s to play/watch live music together, or to discuss online the best types of music that benefit your mental health.
In the UK, support is available at the charity Mind on 0300 123 3393 and Childline on 0800 1111. In the US, Mental Health America is available on 800-273-8255.
For more ways music influences the mind, read:
- Emotions From Music: The Connection Between Sound and Feelings
- The Power of Music on Nostalgia
Elevate the way you listen to music with KEF
Cover Credit: Anna Danilina/Unsplash
Writer | DB Damage
DB Damage is a freelance content writer passionate about creative subjects like music, film, and video games. He studied IT and music technology at college and has a background in managing and promoting local bands.