We've all been there—having a rough day, feeling drained emotionally or mentally, and then a particular song comes on. Suddenly, we're transported. Our minds lighten, our spirits lift, our hearts resonate with the rhythm, and it's like the world is in harmony once again. The transformative power of music on our mental state is a phenomenon we can all relate to, and it's more than just a feeling. It has a feeling of belonging and being understood. See playlists I enjoy based on what I want at the end of this blog! (I am also a millennial who enjoys a range of music, so while our tastes and what connects with us through music may differ, I hope it can serve as inspiration).
The healing power of music has been acknowledged for centuries. From the ancient Greeks using music for therapeutic purposes to the modern practices of music therapy, it's clear that melodies, harmonies, and rhythms can significantly impact our mental health. Yet, as therapeutic as it can be, music can also have a darker side. Understanding its dual role is key to harnessing its power effectively.
How Music Positively Impacts Mental Health
Music has a profound ability to regulate our emotions. Research has shown that it can reduce stress, alleviate anxiety, improve mood, and even help combat depression.
Stress Relief: Fast-paced, stressful modern life often leaves us feeling overwhelmed. Thankfully, music can be a powerful stress-reliever. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that listening to slow-tempo music can lower the stress hormone cortisol and even decrease blood pressure.
Examples of slow-tempo music known as the genre Downtempo ranges from lo-fi hip hop to psychill, it is a modern staple on streaming services for its relaxing, atmospheric-based beats. Here is an example playlist I enjoy that has a range of Downtempo more lo-fi focused. See if you can create your own go-to playlist for stress relief!
Anxiety Alleviation: Music can also help manage anxiety. According to a 2017 study published in PLoS ONE, music therapy can significantly reduce anxiety levels in patients with chronic illnesses. Music can help transport us and help enhance our environment however we want it to.
Mood Enhancement: Ever noticed how a catchy, upbeat tune can make you feel happier? That's because listening to cheerful music stimulates the release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain. Having a go-to playlist can be a great strategy to have on hand. Music can set the "mood" for what you are trying to do from lifting those heavy weights, focusing on work, calming your mind, lifting your spirits, and more! You get to decide what you want music to do for you.
Combatting Depression: Music can be a powerful tool in mitigating the symptoms of depression. A 2017 meta-analysis in the Journal of Affective Disorders concluded that music therapy has a moderate-to-strong effect in treating depressive symptoms.
The Potential Negative Impact of Music on Mental Health
While music can be a source of solace, it can also, paradoxically, contribute to negative emotional states. Certain songs can evoke painful memories or amplify existing feelings of sadness, anxiety, or loneliness.
Research has suggested that excessively listening to 'sad' music can create a feedback loop that exacerbates feelings of depression or hopelessness. Similarly, violent or aggressive lyrics in some genres of music might stimulate negative emotions and thoughts in certain listeners. Understanding this dichotomy is important for leveraging the healing power of music while minimizing potential harm. Now this is not always the case, but if you are someone who find they are pulled down in negative environment or when you surround yourself with more melancholy individuals, this might apply to you.
Finding the Right Music to Improve Your Mood
As with any form of therapy, individual responses to music can be highly personalized. What soothes one person might agitate another. To use music effectively for mental health:
Identify Your Emotional Response: Be aware of how different genres, tempos, and lyrics affect your emotions. A song that energizes you might stress someone else, and vice versa.
Create a Mood-Boosting Playlist: Include songs that have a positive influence on your mood. These could be uplifting tracks, songs that evoke happy memories, or calming instrumental pieces. You can have multiple lists, you may find that you need more mellow songs that can fade to the background than other songs at certain times. You may need to call upon songs that you grew up with and really spoke to you then and now.
Balance Your Musical Diet: Just as a balanced diet is essential for physical health, a balanced 'musical diet' can support mental health. Mix in different types of music and be mindful if you're getting stuck on tracks that bring you down.
Music, with its universal and powerful impact, is an extraordinary tool for mental wellness. While it's important to be mindful of music's potential negative influence, the benefits of utilizing music to uplift mood, manage stress, and support mental health are immense. So, go ahead and let the melodies play on—your mind might just thank you for it.
Playlists for you to enjoy and be inspired for your own (Spotify):