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Music and mental health: 5 ways music improves brain health

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Music is an art form that has an emotional effect. Listening to your favourite song can instantly lift your mood. Upbeat music at the gym makes you feel energised. A soothing melody at bedtime can drift you to blissful sleep. Extensive research has been conducted on music and the brain effects it produces. Use of music for mental health improvement has shown exciting results. 

1. Music provides a feel-good effect

Listening to good music is a pleasurable experience. But why does music make us feel good? The brain anticipates music as a rewarding activity. Dopamine, your reward and pleasure brain chemical, is released when you listen to music. Brain scans showed an increase in blood flow in the dopamine-producing areas when listening to pleasurable music [1]. Dopamine enhances motivation and encourages you to continue doing the pleasant activity. This also explains why you can listen to music for hours.

2. Music reduces stress

Another way music helps mental health is by de-stressing you. A review of 56 studies found that music lowers the stress response [8], making it an effective stress management technique. If you are stressed, listening to your favourite music for 10 minutes can lower your stress hormone, cortisol [7]. Music can produce physical and psychological responses to stress. It can reduce cortisol, heart rate and blood pressure [9]. Music has also shown to improve immune response, which also contributes to adapting to stressful situations effectively [1]. University students who listened to music after performing a stressful task, recovered from stress quicker [11]. Psychologically, music improves your mental state by having a positive effect on the emotional centre of the brain [9]. Meditative and instrumental music have shown to reduce stress [9]. 

3. Music increases motivation

The type of music you listen to can motivate you to find the deeper meaning in life, strengthen social connections and even improve your workout. When people listened to meaningful music (such as instrumental music) for 2 hours per day, they were more motivated to seek the important values of life. Those who listened to pleasurable music (such as pop and rock music) were more motivated to make others laugh and make new friends [2]. 

Music can motivate you to have a better workout, which also improves mental health. Listening to music diverts focus from the challenges of exercise to the music. This can increase motivation by improving mood, efficiency and reducing the perception of fatigue and pain [3].

4. Music decreases depression

Music therapy is the clinical use of music as an additional therapy for different disorders. A review of 55 studies found that music therapy for at least 1-4 weeks decreased depressive scores [4]. The recommendation is to listen to 1 hour of music prescribed by a music therapist, twice a week. Use of classical and jazz music decreased depressive scores by almost 50% [5]. Many possible factors contribute to the anti-depressant effects of music like improved mood, increased motivation, and presence of a positive distraction. Brain scans have shown that music activates the emotion and pleasure areas of the brain [6].

5. Group musical activities improve well-being

Being a part of group musical activities promotes social bonding and lowers loneliness which improves mental wellbeing. Those who sang in a choir for a month reported better moods and social connectedness [10]. A review of 9 studies reported that being part of a band or music group improved self-esteem and social support [11]. Being part of a song-writing group helped to alleviate barriers to build rapport and build strong friendships [11]. Whatever form of music you enjoy, being part of a musical group can help improve mental health.


References:

  1. Rebecchini L. (2021). Music, mental health, and immunity. Brain, behavior, & immunity - health18, 100374.
  2. de Leeuw, R.N.H. et al. (2021). How Music Awakens the Heart: An Experimental Study on Music, Emotions, and Connectedness. Mass Communication and Society, pp.1–23.
  3. Ballmann C. G. (2021). The Influence of Music Preference on Exercise Responses and Performance: A Review. Journal of functional morphology and kinesiology6(2), 33.
  4. Tang, Q. et al. (2020). Effects of music therapy on depression: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. PloS one15(11), e0240862.
  5. Leubner, D. et al. (2017). Reviewing the Effectiveness of Music Interventions in Treating Depression. Frontiers in psychology8, 1109.
  6. Schaefer H. E. (2017). Music-Evoked Emotions-Current Studies. Frontiers in neuroscience11, 600. 
  7. Tervaniemi, M. et al. (2021). Psychological and Physiological Signatures of Music Listening in Different Listening Environments—An Exploratory Study. Brain Sciences11(5), 593. MDPI AG.
  8. Fancourt, D. et al. (2014). The psychoneuroimmunological effects of music: a systematic review and a new model. Brain, behavior, and immunity36, 15–26.
  9. de Witte, M. et al. (2020). Effects of music interventions on stress-related outcomes: a systematic review and two meta-analyses. Health psychology review14(2), 294–324.
  10. Pearce, E. et al. (2015). The ice-breaker effect: singing mediates fast social bonding. Royal Society open science2(10), 150221. 
  11. Dingle, G. A. et al. (2021). How Do Music Activities Affect Health and Well-Being? A Scoping Review of Studies Examining Psychosocial Mechanisms. Frontiers in psychology12, 713818.


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