Does music improve your mental health?

Does music improve your mental health?

How Music Can Positively Impact Your Mental Health

After living with Coronavirus for the last 2 years, many of us are seeing the easing of restrictions and a return to a more “normal’ way of life.  How has living with the pandemic affected our mental health? And are there ways we can use music to help us as we enter this new phase of life?

So how has Covid19 impacted our mental health?

Everyone remembers those long days in lockdowns or many days in quarantine, right? Maybe you were alone and separated from loved ones, or perhaps in the pressure cooker of trying to juggle 9-5 Zoom meetings while simultaneously teaching one child math’s and stopping the other from eating crayons?!

Whatever the circumstances, according to Javed, Soto et al, 2020 anxiety, depression and stress all played their part.

First Lets rewind

Even before we consider the impact of the pandemic, mental health issues were estimated to affect around 1 in 4 people, with 1 in 6 being affected by anxiety or depression ( That means you or someone close to you is likely to have suffered from some form of mental health issues.

The music industry itself has seen its fair share of tortured souls, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, Scott Hutchison to name but a few.  But, in recent years many high-profile celebrities including Adele, Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen and Lionel Richie have started to open up about their mental health struggles in an effort to end the stigma attached to it,

"All I do know is as we age the weight of our unsorted baggage becomes heavier . . . much heavier. With each passing year, the price of our refusal to do that sorting rises higher and higher."

Bruce Springsteen

So, where does Music come into this?

We can all probably remember a time when music has touched us to the point, we either have goose bumps, a lump in your throat or chills running down your spine, right?

Warning, here comes the science…

It’s thought listening to music causes the brain to release a hormone called dopamine, also known as “the happy hormone”. Dopamine is a primary driver in the brains reward system and when it spikes the higher levels can provide feelings of euphoria, bliss and enhance motivation and concentration and decrease physiological and psychological stress responses.  It also decreases levels of cortisol which in turn helps to reduce heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels.

It has long been recognised that music is beneficial to mental and physical health, with evidence to suggest that even as far back as the Ancient Greeks used musical modes and scales to cure ailments.  And more recently following the first and second world wars, trained musicians performed in hospitals and it was found that patients showed positive physical and emotional responses as was noted by renowned Musical Therapist Ronna Kaplan.

…And relax… in short, music feeds the brain with hormones that can help reduce stress, anxiety and make you feel happy.


"One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain."

Bob Marley

How does different music affect us?

We’ve all had that moment where we sit in disbelief because your friend is not a fan of your favourite band right? It’s no secret that musical tastes are very individual. What makes one person feel happy and nostalgic may evoke feelings of sadness in another. There is evidence to suggest that listening to music you enjoy reduces anxiety and improves your overall mood. It doesn’t have to be a specific genre of music for a specific emotion, although you only need to go to Spotify or Tidal and enter the word relax and an encyclopaedic amount of classical and jazz music will be thrust before your very eyes.

Let’s pause for a moment and ask ourselves, does how we listen to music make any difference to how we feel?

Brace yourself for a wee bit more science…

The Global Council on Brain Health commissioned a study in 2020 looking at music and mental health, right when Covid19 was at its peak. They found that singing and dancing along to our favourite tunes can improve our mental and physical health.  Sharing music with others…even virtually, through listening, singing or performing encourages empathy, compassion and can increase the pleasure that we feel from music. It was also found that just having music on in the background can improve our brain health and cognitive functioning.

Good news right?

Music as therapy?

As published in the Psychomusicology, Music therapies are becoming increasingly popular for a range of mental health issues from autism, acquired brain injury or dementia to post traumatic stress disorder and OCD. It is now used widely in a more holistic and multidisciplinary approach to mental health care. In 2015 Guitteriez and Camarena conducted a study into general anxiety and depression discovered that as little as twelve 2-hour sessions of music therapy could have a noticeable improvement on overall anxiety levels.

NHS studies have also shown that people suffering from depression are more likely to continue treatment and benefit from standard care when offered in conjunction with music therapy.  A recent article in The Nursing Standard highlights the benefits of music therapy in acute mental health settings concluding that group music therapy for dementia sufferers was found to be beneficial. The trial demonstrated that music improved their openness to communication and motivated them to join in activities. Their behaviour overall was more settled. All thanks to music.

As the great poet and playwright Victor Hugo so succinctly put it:

"Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent"

Victor Hugo

Making music for example playing the drums can provide stress relief through the simple act of hitting the drum as much as the music made by it. Listening to music can improve memory, cognitive performance and reduce stress, while also helping to calm anxiety or help people to regulate their responses to emotions or situations and provides an outlet to work through feelings and desires.

Let’s wrap up.

So, it seems music can play an integral part of your mental wellbeing.  Music can lift us; it can provide moments of calmness and comfort and for those who are struggling with the darkness and loneliness of mental health issues it can light a spark to help us find our way.  So now is as good a time as any, to drop the needle on your favourite record, sit back and crank your Hi-Fi system up to eleven!

"Music is probably the only real magic I have encountered in my life. There’s not some trick involved with it. It’s pure and it’s real. It moves, it heals, it communicates and does all these incredible things."

Tom Petty

Where to find help

If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, there are many expert charities and organisations doing great work who will be only too happy to listen and help. A quick search online will find give a multitude of places to access help or click one of the links below.

One important thing to remember is you are not alone.

The Samaritans
Samaritans responds to a call for help. No judgement. No pressure. There for anyone who needs someone.

Mind offers information and advice to people with mental health problems and lobbies government and local authorities on their behalf.

Mental Health Matters
Mental health support for individuals and communities.
Mental Health Matters

The British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT)
The professional body for Music Therapy in the UK, providing both practitioners and non-practitioners with information, professional support, and training opportunities. It is also a charity committed to promoting and raising awareness of Music Therapy, and providing information to the general public.

Music Support
Help and support for those who work in UK music and live events affected by mental ill-health and/or addiction.

The UK’s largest music therapy charity, using music to enrich the lives of people with life-limiting illness, disabilities or feelings of isolation.

Music For Dementia
Raising awareness and understanding of the role of music in dementia care, a resource for information on this subject.

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