Music can have a powerful effect on emotions. Whether it’s in the background of movies, setting the tone for the environment of a workplace or enjoyed at a concert, it’s woven into nearly every part of society to express emotion, inspire change and entertain.
Whether they’re consciously aware of it or not, many people use music to change their mood. An individual can scroll through the curated playlists on their favorite digital music service and find playlists for cleaning the house, going on a road trip or dealing with the loss of a relationship. Listening to music can trigger memories, bring feelings of happiness or help individuals work through feelings of grief and sadness.
For some, the power of music can provide a temporary escape from stress, depression and sadness. While it isn’t a cure-all, it can be a vital part of someone’s mental health journey. For that reason, it’s a popular form of therapy to help individuals process their feelings, build connections with others and express themselves.
Music and Mental Health Research
The impact that music has on emotions has long been the object of study. Researchers from Johns Hopkins noted that listening to music can lessen the degree of anxiety an individual feels, alter their perception of pain and even lower their blood pressure. It’s been linked to reducing seizures, repairing brain damage and boosting the immune system. Using music as a coping mechanism can improve a person’s sleep quality, change their mood and heighten mental alertness.
A popular course at the University of Central Florida’s Burnett Honors College, “Music and the Brain,” explores the relationship between music and human behavior. Along with covering topics such as how music reduces pain and even prompts the brain to produce neurons, the course outlines how those with degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s respond to music.
Neuroscientist Kiminobu Sugaya, one of the two professors teaching the course, notes that individuals in the late stages of Alzheimer’s are generally unresponsive. However, when they hear their favorite music, they may begin to move with the beat or even sing. In some cases, this response may last up to 10 minutes.
The response can also be seen on an MRI, which shows that music activates about a dozen parts of the brain. These include regions that control thinking and decision-making, speech comprehension, memories and emotions.
According to a 2010 study, about 90 percent of people have experienced a physical response to hearing a song. This response is likely due to the brain’s dopamine response to accurately anticipating what’s coming next in the song.
Music Can Provide an Escape from Stress
Music therapy is a growing field that uses music to help individuals escape from stress. While it’s increasingly being used in a clinical setting, individuals can achieve similar benefits at home. One of the biggest benefits of using music to manage stress is that music can be used while the individual conducts their usual duties. Unlike many other strategies for managing stress, such as yoga or guided imagery, the person doesn’t have to pause their activities. The trick is to identify the types of music that produce the desired results.
For those whose mornings tend to be stressful, setting the mood by playing calming, low-key music can create a more peaceful environment. Those with stressful morning commutes may consider playing their favorite upbeat songs to help them maintain a positive attitude. Music can also help unwind at the end of the day and distract from the stress that could prevent a good night’s sleep.
Stressors are unavoidable. Rush-hour traffic, urgent deadlines, leaking faucets and flat tires are the things life is made of. Finding effective ways to manage these stressors is important for mental health. While it takes more than a few songs to solve life’s problems, listening to music to feel better is a healthy way to temporarily escape from stress.
The Benefits of Music for the Mood
Music has a profound physical and mental impact. Upbeat, happy music can bring feelings of joy by causing the brain to produce feel-good chemicals. This makes it a popular choice for tackling chores or serving as a distraction for unpleasant tasks.
Current findings show that when an individual listens to music that has about 60 beats per minute, their brainwaves sync up with the beat. This produces a relaxed state. According to researchers at Sanford University, listening to music may have as significant an impact on the brain as medication.
Because music is so accessible, it’s a stress-reduction tool that practically anyone can use.
The Limitations of Music as an Escape
While the benefits of using music as an escape are clear, it’s important to note that it has limitations. Music can have a significant impact on a person’s mood, but its perks are short-lived. Individuals with mental health conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder can get temporary relief. However, music therapy isn’t a cure or a substitute for professional help, and it may not be enough to control intense reactions to stress.
Additionally, some types of music can heighten anxiety and cause overstimulation. Music that is too loud, too fast or has aggressive or sad lyrics can worsen stress, even if the style aligns with the individual’s preferences.
Finally, not everyone enjoys these benefits when they listen to music. While about 90 percent of people experience a physical reaction to music, about 10 percent of people don’t.
Like other types of therapy, music therapy is most effective when administered by an experienced counselor with specialized knowledge and training in the field.
Music Therapy as Part of a Comprehensive Approach to Mental Wellness
Music therapy can be an effective part of treating mental health conditions. It can help most people by providing a temporary escape from stress, improving brain function and creating a sense of calm. This can be particularly helpful for those who’ve lived with conditions like anxiety so long that they’ve forgotten what it feels like to relax.
However, music therapy isn’t a cure-all. For some, this approach is entirely ineffective. Even individuals who find it to be helpful get the greatest benefits from this therapy when it’s used as part of a comprehensive approach to mental wellness. Music can be a great tool for getting through the most stressful parts of the day, but for those with mental illness, it’s not a substitute for professional help.
At FHE Health, we use a range of therapies to treat mental health disorders, including music therapy. This modality has helped numerous clients experience relief from symptoms and function more effectively throughout their days. To learn more about our therapeutic approach, contact us today at (855) 656-0357.