How Music Can Help Mental Health Disorders

Imagine not having music at a wedding, on a long road trip or during a workout. It’s not until we forget to bring our headphones to the gym or on an airplane that we realize just how much we rely on our favorite songs for motivation or relaxation.

Music can give us confidence before an important event, calm us down when we’re anxious and make everyday life’s special occasions even more memorable.

Music has been widely studied and proven to not only entertain, but also to heal. Listening to music can have therapeutic effects on many mental and physical health conditions, as well as be a great way to cope with daily life.

Effects of Stress on the Mind and Body

Stress, the feeling of being emotionally overwhelmed, can affect us mentally and physically.

Stress causes your nervous system to activate its “fight-or-flight” response. For example, when you are highly stressed, your heart rate and blood pressure may increase, and you may experience muscle tension or digestive problems.

A small amount of stress is normal and can give us the energy we need to deal with important tasks or difficult situations. However, ongoing or chronic stress can lead to developing an anxiety disorder, depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and more.

There are many ways to prevent chronic stress, and music has had tremendous success as a tool for stress relief. A study published in the 2020 edition of Health Psychology Review found the benefits of music:

  • Lowers heart rate and cortisol (stress hormone) levels
  • Releases endorphins and improves our sense of well-being
  • Distracts us and in turn reduces physical and emotional stress levels
  • Reduces stress, depression, and anxiety-related symptoms

Research on the Effects of Music

Research on the effects of music and music therapy show music’s ability to relieve stress, symptoms of mental health conditions and more.

Recent medically-reviewed research shows that listening to calming music and participating in music-related activities can be a great way to improve the health and well-being of people from diverse age groups, backgrounds and mental and physical health statuses.

This specific study and much other research shows the benefits of listening to music or participating in music-related activities include:

  • Improved sleep quality
  • Reduced physical pain
  • Decreased agitation, improved posture, movement and well-being of people with dementia
  • Group singing is shown to support the health and well-being of older adults and those with mental health problems, lung disease, stroke and dementia through its effects on cognitive functions, mood and social connections
  • Playing a musical instrument can improve the general health and well-being of school-age students, older adults and people with mild brain injuries due to its effects on motor, cognitive and social processes
  • Dance and movement in music programs can improve the health and well-being of people with dementia, women with postnatal depression and sedentary women with obesity through various cognitive, physical and social processes
  • Rapping, songwriting and composition helped the well-being of marginalized people through effects on social and cultural inclusion and connection, self-esteem and empowerment

Music Therapy

Music therapy is the clinical use of music in a therapy program with the help of a credentialed music therapist.

Music therapy may include goal-oriented music listening, playing or composing music, songwriting and more. Active interactions with music can help patients work through complex emotions and encourage self-improvement.

Before the session, music therapists assess the patient’s needs and strengths, and together they will decide on the right treatment plan.

A typical music therapy session might involve one or more of the following:

  • Creating music–you might compose music or write lyrics together
  • Singing music–use your voice to share a piece of music
  • Listening to music–enjoy the sound and actively listen to lyrics
  • Moving to music–you might simply tap your toes together or make up a more complex dance routine
  • Discussing lyrics–read or listen to the lyrics of a song and talk about their meaning and how they might relate to your own experiences and emotions
  • Playing an instrument–use an instrument like a piano, guitar, drums, etc. to share music

Best Types of Music for Stress Relief

Certain genres of music like classical and ambient are historically the subject of most research about music and stress. While there may be a lot of evidence that instrumental music can reduce stress and anxiety, this doesn’t mean they are better than your favorite pop song.

In fact, the American Music Therapy Association states that, “All styles of music can be useful in effecting change in a client or patient’s life.”

We also use different kinds of music for different purposes. Since we all have special relationships with our favorite songs and genres, we can use those to invoke certain emotions and feelings unique to that relationship. For example:

  • Classical music is associated with a soothing, calming effect
  • Rap music can be inspiring and motivating when in a low mood, when you have low energy or if you’re dealing with difficult life circumstances
  • Lo-fi hip-hop music is associated with studying, as the instrumental beats can be helpful when you need to focus

Music Can Improve Mental Health

Listening to your favorite music has more benefits than you may realize. It’s also a safe, cost-effective and widely accessible way to improve your mental health.

Music is not a substitute for therapy, medication or any other medical and mental health treatments. However, music can be a great tool for motivation, improving your mood, helping you cope in times of stress and processing complex emotions.

If you or a loved one are struggling with stress, anxiety, depression or any other mental health issue, reach out to our team at The Anxiety and Depression Institute. Call us at 248-775-5512 or fill out our confidential online form, and our team will be happy to assist you on your journey to improved mental health and wellbeing.

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