Staying in tune – Can music help your mental health?

Music is a powerful thing for us humans. It brings people together, evokes memories and entertains us. Music can make us dance like nobody’s watching, sing into our steering wheels, or bring tears to our eyes. But music isn’t just about enjoyment – it also has profound impacts on our brains, and how we think and feel.

Improves cognitive function
Many researchers have been analysing the link between music and how our brains retain and process information. Studies suggest that background music, or music that is played while the listener is primarily focused on another activity, can improve how well our brain performs at cognitive tasks. Upbeat music seems to improve processing speed, while both upbeat and slower, calming music can help improve our memory function.

Elevate your mood
A 2013 study found that listening to positive, energising music helped people experience feelings of joy, improve their moods, and boost their happiness levels in just two weeks. In the study, participants were instructed to try to improve their mood, but they only succeeded when they listened to the positive tunes, as opposed to music that was classified as being sad and melancholic.

Help reduce symptoms of depression
Studies are also discovering that music as a form of therapy can be a safe and effective treatment for a variety of mental health disorders, including depression. One review found that music therapy was a safe, low-risk way to help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in patients suffering from neurological conditions such as dementia, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease. The same review also highlighted that many previous studies have also supported the effectiveness of musical interventions in improving mood, depression, and overall quality of life.

Relieve stress
Physical and emotional tension is something most of us have experienced at some point. It’s great to know that reaching for the ‘play’ button on some soothing, calming music when we’re feeling stressed out and tense is backed by research as a way to regulate our feelings. One paper found that music interplays with two biological systems involved in stress – the endocrine (hormone) system and autonomic (also known as ‘fight or flight’) response. These findings suggest that enjoyment of music can be considered a good method of stress reduction in our day-to-day lives.

Helps you sleep better
Insomnia is a serious health issue that can affect people of all ages. Without adequate sleep, we are putting our physical and mental wellbeing at risk. Therapies to improve sleep are wide-ranging, but research has shown that listening to relaxing, classical music can be a safe and effective option for people struggling with insomnia. One study found that students who listened to music at bedtime had significantly better sleep quality than those who had listened to an audiobook or received no intervention.

Assist with pain management
Living with chronic pain can be immensely draining – not only to your physical strength, but also your mental health. Researchers have demonstrated that music can be very helpful in the management of pain. In a study involving people with fibromyalgia found that those who listened to music for just one hour a day experienced a significant reduction in pain compared to those in the control group.