Tuning Into Your State of Mind: The Music-Mental Health Connection
Pause for a second. Think of your favorite song. Hum a line or two.
Now, how do you feel? What emotions do you feel? What memories are flooding your mind?
Music is powerful. It can fill us with joy and make us weep. And there’s science to back up the music-mental health connection.
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Music in Our Minds
Research indicates that listening to music can actually affect brain chemistry. Hearing certain tunes can affect dopamine (the “happy” hormone), oxytocin (the “love” hormone), and cortisol (the “stress” hormone).
The rhythm and repetition of music engages the neocortex. This part of the brain controls higher functions like decision-making, language, and perception. When the neocortex is engaged through music, the melody can affect your mood and mental state.
Your favorite songs might also give you some insight into your personality.
Some research suggests that your taste in music can correlate to aspects of your personality. So much, in fact, that hearing 10 of your favorite songs could allow someone to predict how creative, extroverted, and open-minded you are.
Researchers found that extroverts tend to prefer songs with heavy bass, and creative types prefer jazz and classical. In another study, researchers found that people who listened to heavy metal tended to be introverted and gentle. Fans of rap were more outgoing and had high self-esteem. And those who preferred dance music were more outgoing and assertive.
So, if you switch the music you listen to, would it also change your personality? Probably not…exactly. But it can alter your mood, which can affect your behavior.
What You Listen to Matters
Have you ever noticed that certain songs stir up certain emotions? Or that different musical genres affect you differently? There’s research to back this up, too.
Experts say classical music is the best mood booster. But what if you prefer heavy metal? Sorry, there’s bad news: heavy metal and techno music have been found to be ineffective at boosting mood and can even have a negative effect.
Genre isn’t the only important thing, though. What you associate with certain types of music or specific songs can affect the music’s impact, too.
Music activates many regions of the brain, including the hippocampus—where the brain processes memory—and the limbic system—the structures responsible for emotional response.
If you have positive memories linked with certain songs, listening to them can improve your state of mind.
Suzanne Hanser, president of the International Association for Music & Medicine, explains:
So, if you’re feeling down, it might be good to go back to your old favorites.
Music as Mental Health Treatment
Since music can be so influential, specializing therapists often implement music mental health treatment plans alongside other therapies. Music therapy is used in the treatment of:
Music therapy is used to help people process emotions and manage anxiety. This type of therapy can help people cope with stressors and improve their overall psychological well-being.
And research backs this up. Studies show that listening to music can impact the autonomic nervous system which controls our stress response. Music may actually help people recover from stressful events more quickly.
Other research reveals that music therapy can help reduce depression and anxiety in people who suffer from stroke, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease which are all neurological conditions.
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Making a Mental Switch with Music
Often, the type of music we listen to depends on our mood. We tend to match the tunes to what we’re feeling. There are potential benefits to this, such as helping us work through difficult emotions.
But it can also keep us stuck in a rut. If we’re in a depressed or anxious state, we may listen to a loop of the same music.
Mental health conditions can’t be healed with a single upbeat song, but music therapists suggest starting with songs that match your current emotional state. Then, to alter your mood, slowly shifting to more calming or positive music. The notes may carry your mood along with them and bring you to a healthier mental state.
Trying out new music can also be beneficial to your mental health. Familiar music usually causes the strongest brain response and the greatest release of “happy hormones,” but unfamiliar songs can also stimulate your brain. The fresh melodies can provide a new source of pleasure that has a positive impact on your mental health.
Coping skills, like intentionally using the music-mental health connection to change your state of mind, can decrease the intensity of mental health symptoms, reduce the risk of addiction relapse, and provide other benefits. Learning a variety of coping skills is part of mental health treatment.
Call 800-598-5053 (Who Answers?) to speak to a specialist about treatment options that can help you learn to manage your mental health.