For thousands of years, we have played instruments, sang songs, and danced to the universal language of music. However, entertainment is not the only function of music. Ancient Egyptian, Roman, Chinese, and Greek civilizations utilized music’s healing properties as they performed surgeries and other medical procedures.
Modern treatments have labeled this music therapy, which can be defined as the incorporation of music into medical treatments to improve well-being and health. Traditionally, it has been used with other healing tools – never as a stand-alone treatment – to aid in overcoming symptoms by keeping the patient distracted and calm. Think doing physical therapy as smooth jazz plays in the background rather than doctors prescribing albums to treat constipation.
Research has found many benefits of music on our mental health, such as mood improvement, stress and pain management, and many more. Below is more on the benefits of music on our well-being, along with examples of how you can use it to improve your mental health.
Improve Your Mood
The most notable impact music has is the ability to improve mood. Listening to your favourite song, that also has some meaning to you, can feel so affirming that once the song ends, you feel better. Research has discovered that music can help us achieve a better mood and become more self-aware.
Incorporate music into your daily routine so you can carry its effect on your mood throughout the day. Consider:
- Playing your favourite songs at the beginning of your day
- Making a playlist of your favourite upbeat songs and another playlist of relaxing songs for easy access
- Dancing (i.e., moving your body) instead of bobbing your head or tapping your foot to the music
Treat Symptoms of Depression
Similar to improving your mood, music can be helpful for reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety in some people. The type of music used in these studies was classical music and meditation music, but what matters most is how much the listener enjoys the genre of music used. For the best results, researchers recommend listening to music for extended periods, for at least three consecutive weeks. Since depression can be a chronic condition, consistency in listening to music is the difference maker in feeling its benefits.
Consider these tips to help combat symptoms of depression:
- Incorporate background music while doing manual labour and chores
- Listen to positive, uplifting music after waking up and relaxing music before going to sleep
- Pick a “Song of the Day” and journal how it makes you feel as you listen to it
- Avoid listening to songs or artists that make you feel sad, disappointed, angry, or upset
If you find yourself in a situation where you know that you will be in pain or a physically stressful situation (e.g., after a surgery or following an injury from an accident), try to tune into some of your favourite slow jams or calming music to help pain fade into the background. Music is a safe remedy for coping with pain, especially when compared to alcohol or drug use.
Recent studies have shown that people who listened to music before, during, or after surgery experienced less pain and anxiety than those who did not.
Improve Your Cognitive Performance
Cognitive performance includes the ability to learn, critical thinking, reasoning, decision making, memory, and attention. All are valuable things that require focus and impact our day-to-day lives.
Listening to music when you intend to focus can give you a leg up with various cognitive tasks. Studies have shown that playing upbeat music improves processing speed (thinking quicker) while slower/calming music helps with memory tasks. If you need to study, meditate, create, or even cook, play something that has little to no lyrics so your mind can concentrate on your intention.
It is difficult to imagine being upset while listening to music we enjoy. At the very least, we could be stressed out before the beat drops but afterward, smiling and head bobbing may feel impossible to avoid. The question you may be asking is, “How?”. Listening to music releases neurotransmitters in the brain that decrease stress levels and increase motivation. Scientists also saw that people who listened to music while experiencing high levels of stress were able to recover more quickly.
Next time you find yourself stressed out, try this:
- Humming or singing a song that deeply resonates with you
- Play songs from your childhood that bring about nostalgia
- Take a quick break and listen to your favourite album
Here are a couple example playlists I’ve put together on YouTube to help you get started – the key is to find the genres of music you enjoy most.
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- R: Hole J, Hirsch M, Ball E, Meads C. Music as an aid for postoperative recovery in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet. 2015;386(10004):1659-71. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60169-6
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Daniel Ikejimba, is a first-generation Nigerian-American born in Chicago, IL with a Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and currently a Wellness Coach. He is also co-founder of The Abstract a resource for fine tuning resiliency and coping skills in the face of chronic conditions.