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Music is a powerful tool in more ways than one. It was my saving grace while growing up in a less-than-stellar environment. To me, it’s catharsis personified. Escapism for the brain. Personally, listening to classical music or ambient is a balm for the soul. Whenever my anxiety is through the roof, whenever everything seems bleak and hopeless, putting on my favorite songs can make me feel right as rain.
Now, music is known to harbor a multitude of positive effects on mental health. Its positive impact has been well-documented and is supported by scientific evidence. In fact, Harvard Health Publishing of Harvard Medical School notes that it can enhance cognitive performance:
“…researchers speculated that listening to music helps organize the firing of nerve cells in the right half of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain responsible for higher functions. According to this construct, music — or at least some forms of music — acts as an ‘exercise’ that warms up selected brain cells, allowing them to process information more efficiently.”
It’s safe to say that what we listen to can literally jumpstart our brains. This is good news if you suffer from depression and/or anxiety. Below, I’ve highlighted just how vital music can be for our mental health.
Music Can Help Lessen Depression Symptoms
Verywellmind has penned a wonderful article that delves into the psychological benefits one can glean from simply turning up the volume on their favorite song. Music can help lessen depression symptoms, but that doesn’t mean you should toss your medications in the trash bin. Depression looks different on everyone.
That being said, this Verywellmind piece reveals that studies have shown how music therapy has positively impacted patients with dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and those who’ve suffered from strokes.
Researchers have discovered that music therapy was a “safe, low-risk way” to decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety in the aforementioned groups. Additionally, Verywellmind had this to add regarding the benefits of music therapy:
“While music can certainly have an impact on mood, the type of music is also important. Classical and meditation music offer the greatest mood-boosting benefits, while heavy metal and techno music are ineffective and even detrimental.”
Harvard Health Publishing offers even more insight and statistics into this very subject. A 2006 study consisting of 60 adults with chronic pain found that listening to music reduced depression, disability, and anxiety. Recently, Mindlab International conducted a study with surprising results. Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson’s findings revealed that classical, ambient, and instrumental tunes helped lessen anxiety up to 65 percent. That’s a significant percentage.
Since anxiety and depression generally go hand-in-hand, it stands to reason that listening to soothing songs may alleviate symptoms when you’re in the throes of an anxious or depressive episode. Stressed out about financial matters? The Depression Monster won’t get off your back? Grieving a lost loved one or feeling anxiety regarding the ensuing pandemic? Give music a go.
While it’s not a cure-all, you may find your mind returning to a more neutral or relaxed state after listening to something of the classical or ambient variety. And that’s what it’s all about — finding calm in the center of the storm and maintaining that.
It Improves Your Mood
Come on, get happy! Verywellmind also reveals that music can elevate your mood. This snippet straight from their site uncovers one study with interesting results.
“In one examination of the reasons why people listen to music, researchers discovered that music played an important role in relating arousal and mood. Participants rated music’s ability to help them achieve a better mood and become more self-aware as two of the most important functions of music.”
Besides the above study, another team of researchers determined that exposing oneself to positive, uplifting music on an incessant basis could “have an impact within two weeks.” Participants in this study were instructed to listen to music every day for said two weeks.
On the flip side of that, a slew of folks were given the same instructions but with one caveat: they must not make themselves intentionally happier. Apparently, the participants who purposefully improved their own mood reported feeling happier in those two weeks.
So, what does that tell us? While depression and anxiety are inherent, diagnosable, and oftentimes genetic mental illnesses in their own right, sometimes a purposeful mood lift can do wonders for the mind. If you’re clear with your intentions and hellbent on being happy, that can make all the difference. Open Minds notes that listening to “up-tempo, fast-paced music gets your brain and body moving, making you amped up and motivated to enjoy what’s ahead.”
Music Can Strengthen Your Motivation
Verywellmind raises a very valid point — there’s a reason why you feel more motivated to work out when you’re pumping up the jams. Check out this study that researchers conducted involving exercising students and music.
“One experiment designed to investigate this effect tasked 12 healthy male students with cycling on a stationary bike at self-paced speeds. On three different trials, the participants biked for 25 minutes at a time while listening to a playlist of six different popular songs of various tempos.
Unknown to the listeners, the researchers made subtle differences to the music and then measured performance. The music was left at a normal speed, increased by 10 percent, or decreased by 10 percent.
Speeding up the tracks resulted in increased performance in terms of distance covered, the speed of pedaling, and power exerted. Conversely, slowing down the music’s tempo led to decreases in all of these variables.”
Another point covered in Medical News Today reveals that music helps motivate the brain to learn. They disclosed one study out of Montreal, Canada has concluded that music can “activate the brain’s reward center and motivate learning in an error prediction model.”
Study author Benjamin Gold summarized his results thusly:
“Our results demonstrate that musical events can elicit formally modeled reward prediction errors like those observed for concrete rewards, such as food or money, and that these signals support learning. This implies that predictive processing might play a much wider role in reward and pleasure than previously realized … This study adds to our understanding of how abstract stimuli like music activate the pleasure centers of our brains.”
So, whether you’re pushing yourself to routinely exercise or crack open that textbook, open up your Spotify playlist to something upbeat and positive, and watch your motivation soar to new heights. Of course, it should be noted that one of the many symptoms of depression and anxiety is lack of motivation. Listening to up-tempo songs may help curb that.
It’s a Stress Reducer
To quote one animated bat from a certain ’90s cartoon movie musical (Anastasia): “Stress — it’s a killer!” Stress and anxiety are closely linked. According to Verywellmind, music may help reduce stress. One study found that listening to tunes lessened the impact of stress and affected the autonomic nervous system. Apparently, folks who listened to music in the study recovered more quickly from a “stressor.” Here’s a description of the study courtesy of Verywellmind:
“In one 2013 study, participants took part in one of three conditions before being exposed to a stressor and then taking a psychosocial stress test. Some participants listened to relaxing music, others listened to the sound of rippling water, and the rest received no auditory stimulation.”
Ambient and quiet, soothing music is perfect for softening the unwanted blow that stress can bring. Additionally, Harvard Health Publishing revealed the details of a study consisting of 40 cataract surgery patients with an average age of 74. While some received ordinary care, the rest of the patients were able to listen to the music of their choice before, during, and after their respective operations.
Not only did the listeners report a heightened sense of calm and less stress regarding their surgeries, but even the surgeons felt more at ease and had improved performances.
Crank up the volume if you’re feeling stressed or out of sorts. Choose whatever alleviates your anxiety, because everyone’s musical tastes and bodily responses vary.
It Can Help Decrease Pain
If you suffer from chronic pain, music may be beneficial for you. In fact, a study of fibromyalgia patients yielded some interesting results. According to said study, those who listened to music for one hour a day experienced a decrease in symptoms associated with fibromyalgia. By the end of the four-week period, the listeners noticed their depressive symptoms lessen alongside their fibro pain.
Then, a 2015 research study found that patients who listened to music before, during, and after surgical operations felt their pain was more manageable than non-listeners.
Chronic pain and depression/anxiety tend to be synonymous with one another. Chances are if you’re entrenched in daily pain that you’re also feeling depressed. It’s completely understandable. Music can help reduce that pain, even if it’s temporarily.
Music Is Good for the Soul
Overall, music can positively affect your mental health. The proof is in the pudding. The science is irrefutable based on the studies listed above. So, whenever you’re having a bad mental health day, you’re in pain, or if the stress gets too overwhelming, just turn up the tunes and get lost in the sound.