Music therapy has been well documented to have a positive impact on your mental and physical health.
It has this magical, mysterious power that transcends all boundaries, language, culture and time. It brings harmony into your life when everything feels a bit out of tune (I couldn’t help it!)
I recently wrote about the health benefits of keeping a journal. I strongly believe creativity is a powerful tool when it comes to managing your mental and physical health. Music is something I fall back on time and time again to deliver a heavy dose of ‘the feel goods’.
Music therapy has been around for a long time. From the drum beats of our ancestors, researchers have pondered the therapeutic benefits of music for centuries.
Chinese medical theory believes that the five internal organ and meridian systems are believed to have corresponding musical tones, which are used to encourage healing.
My Start in Music
For my 4th birthday, my dad gave me a tape with Michael Jackson, Bad one side and Eric Clapton, August on the other.
It was my first taste of music outside of nursery rhymes and listened to them back-to-back over, and over again.
Pretty early on I perfected the art of winding in the tape carefully back into place using a pencil whenever it got chewed up in the tape player.
As time went on, always keen to expand my musical education, I listened to a variety of musical styles and artists. From Holst to Meatloaf, Take That to Roxy Music, Bowie to Radiohead.
Instead of going to sleep at bedtime, I’d secretly listen to Steve Lamacq on Radio 1 followed by John Peel, recording their shows on my walkman so I could replay whatever I liked the heard of.
Rumours by Fleetwood Mac left its mark on me. So much that I chose to do a project about it at school.
During my teens, I scoured the record shops for hidden gems. I befriended a record seller in my local market who would scout out albums for me to ‘give a try’. My dad’s vinyl collection was a trove of audio treasures of music yet to be discovered. He has a great taste in music and in a way, I still yearn for his seal of approval whenever I listen to a new album or artist.
Any song I liked the sound of, I’d learn it on the piano. I even dabbled in song-writing for a while. I would probably cringe if I were to listen to them now. In truth, they were never meant to be listened to by anyone. I wrote music because it made me feel happy and reconnected.
Music Makes Us Feel
I used to go to so many gigs. Sometimes I would book a ticket to see a band I’d never heard off, just to see if I’d discover anything that I might like.
Throughout the good and sad times, music was always there.
When I quit a horrible job, I drove all the way home blasting out The Jean Genie so loudly that I blew a speaker.
If I met a new friend, we’d bond over our music collections and exchange mix tapes (remember those?)
Heartbroken after break-up with boyfriend – yup, you guessed it.
Even during labour I listened to music. During my second labour I was a bit out of it and tried to play the gas an air like a kazoo which had me and my hubby in giggles. George arrived 10 minutes later.
Music simply makes us feel.
And this can be leveraged for healing purposes, too.
Music has always had a massive impact on me and my mental health.
Whenever I feel overwhelmed I delve into the depths of an album and lose myself in every inflection, slide, vibrato or hammer.
Over the last couple of months, my anxiety and depression have reared their ugly heads yet again triggered by some health concerns. After one appointment, my depression was intense to the point that I couldn’t think quite right.
Instead of heading home, I put on some Radiohead in the car and went for a little drive. It didn’t take long for my mind to regain control. The way music has such a powerful impact on how your brain processes and copes with thoughts always amaze me.
According to a 2011 study recorded in Nature Neuroscience, the brain releases the chemical dopamine in response to listening to music that you get enjoyment from. Researchers from McGill University in Montreal marked when participants felt a shiver down their spine of the sort that many people in response to a favourite piece of music.
This is called a “chill” or “musical frisson”.
Music Psychologist, Dr Vicky Williamson from Goldsmiths College, University of London said the research didn’t answer why music was so important to humans – but proved that it was.
“This paper shows that music is inexplicably linked with our deepest reward systems.”
Music Helps Infants
There is evidence that if music is played during late pregnancy, that it may lead to children being more responsive to music after birth. Newborns may be soothed by music and become more relaxed if they are agitated.
Pre-term babies exposed to music may also feed better, have increased weight gain and have earlier discharge times as well as increased tolerance to stimulation. Music therapy may also help them get a deeper sleep and reduce heart rates.
Music Increases Sleep Quality
Some studies suggest that music can help muscle relaxation and in turn, making you relaxed when you are winding down for the night. Furthermore, it can help increase sleep quality and quantity for sleepers of all ages from toddlers through to the elderly.
Songs with a slow rhythm, around 60-80 beats per minute, are ideal for promoting relaxation, lowering your heart rate, blood pressure and slowing down your breathing.
I highly recommend listening to An Ending by Brian Eno for a bit of end of the night relaxation.
Music Relieves Anxiety
Music can be the perfect medicine for your mind, ease stress and help reduce depressive symptoms. It serves as a way of distraction but can also tame anxiety through a number of different pathways.
As previously mentioned, physiologically it moderates your heart rate, nervous system and suppresses the sympathetic nervous system which is involved with the flight-or-fight stress response of the body.
Some researchers claim that some songs can reduce anxiety by up to 65 percent.
Music Fuels Nostalgia
Nothing triggers an emotional reaction like music.
It has the ability take you back to that epic gig, a good party or helps set the mood for a relaxing evening.
As I write this, Cream, White Room has popped up on my play list and I feel that chill. I’m transported back home; a happy memory of this song blaring out of the kitchen as my dad prepares tea.
Music was an obsession while growing up. I can recall songs from my youth with relative ease and able to name the year songs came out.
I have developed such a deep connection with some of the music of my youth, that when I listen to it again now it invokes almost a physical reaction within me. Something stirs and moves back into place.
According to research your brain stays attached to music from your youth because you listened to it when you were forming your sense of self and identity.
Daniel Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession said:
“We are discovering music on our own for the first time when we’re young,” he told Slate, “often through our friends. We listen to the music they listen to as a badge, as a way of belonging to a certain social group. That melds the music to our sense of identity.”
Music Can Treat Chronic Conditions
World Journal of Psychiatry review discovered that music is a powerful treatment for mood disorders related to neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease, stroke, dementia and multiple sclerosis.
It reviewed 25 trials with researchers concluding that music is a valid therapy to reduce depression and anxiety, improving self esteem and quality of life.
The therapeutic benefits of music are clear. Next time you need a happiness boost, dig out those old records you’d forgotten about or listen your favourite playlist.
Do you listen to music to help boost your happiness and wellbeing? I’d love to know what’s your favourite music and how does it make you feel?