Music has been a significant component of human life for more than 30,000 years. Music and mental health is vastly talked about, since music can have a significant impact on one’s mental health. From the earliest bone flutes to today’s synthesized sounds, we have and still do enjoy many benefits from playing and listening to melodic sounds.
Not only can listening to music improve your memory, mood and help to stave off depression, but it also reduces stress, improves sleep and improves mental focus. Let’s take a closer look at how music affects your brain and supports better mental health.
How Music Affects Your Brain
When you listen to music, sound waves from instruments or your audio system enter your ear, where they cause the eardrum and tiny bones in the middle ear to vibrate. These vibrations are then carried to the inner ear. From there, they are transmitted as electrical signals, via neurons, to the brain.
Neurologists now understand that several parts of the brain are responsible for processing music. In combination, these responses create the pleasure and satisfaction you experience when you listen to your favourite tunes. They also understand that listening to music gives large areas of your brain a great workout.
You’ve Got Rhythm
On the right side of your brain, there are two areas known as the belt and the parabelt. These are the parts of your brain that figure out a song’s rhythm. If you tap your foot along to the music, your brain’s motor cortex and cerebellum also join in. Your motor cortex helps you keep in time to the music and your cerebellum helps you remember the tune.
Pitching a Tone
Thanks to your auditory cortex, you can recognize and understand pitch and tone. This same area of the brain also works our harmonies and melodies.
When you’re listening to a piece of music, your brain anticipates the rhythm of the beat and the resolution of the melody and harmony. This allows you to keep time to the beat and figure out the sense of the melody and harmony. However, you can still enjoy a piece of music if it takes an unexpected turn and surprises you. All this activity happens in your prefrontal cortex.
Second that Emotion
Everyone, at some time in their life, has listened to a piece of music that has triggered strong emotions, whether sad or happy. When this happens, three main sites of your brain are activating these responses. These are the amygdala, where the emotional response is stimulated, the accumbens, which plays an important role in reward and motivation, and the cerebellum, which helps you remember how you feel about the tune.
As you can see, listening to music takes a lot of brainwork, and it’s totally worth it, because as well as giving your brain a good physical workout, playing your favourite or even new tunes can also have positive effects on your mental health.
Music and Mental Health: How Music Affects Your Mental Health
In many cultures, the healing power of music has been revered for centuries. In the modern Western world, we are continuing to discover the many psychological benefits that listening to music can bring. Here are some of the ones we already know about:
Music can affect your mood in several beneficial ways. For example, listening to upbeat music can lead to an overall improvement in your mood within just two weeks. What may surprise you is even listening to sad music can be beneficial, particularly if you are going through a period of personal loss, such as a bereavement or the breakup of a relationship.
Reducing Feelings of Depression
Because music is so good at boosting your mood, it can also be used to stave off or heal depression. Along with prescribed medication, music therapy can reduce the symptoms of depression better than medication alone. Even listening to melancholy music can help if you’re feeling blue because it can feel soothing.
Reducing Stress and Anxiety
While upbeat music can make your feel more energetic and improve your mood, music with a slower tempo can help you relax and destress. Music can have a direct effect on your body’s production of stress hormones such as and adrenaline. Soothing music can also help to slow your heartbeat and lower your blood pressure and so relieve stress and anxiety.
As well as managing stress, music and music therapy can be used to help manage pain. For example, listening to music before you have surgery can help you feel less pain after the procedure. Music therapy has also been used successfully for the management of chronic pain. It works by promoting slow, rhythmic breathing and relaxation, alleviating anxiety, reducing pain perception, and improving mood.
Music and Productivity
As well as being helpful for healing, music can also boost your creativity, increase your ability to concentrate, and help you become more productive. Multiple studies have shown that different types of music can help you focus while you work, while others can help you learn or trigger inspiration. Here are some examples:
Classical Music to Better Concentrate
You may not have heard of the Mozart effect. The theory it refers to suggests that when you listen to classical music, it enhances your brain activity, which can lead to better concentration and improved analytical skills. The fact that classical music has no lyrics means it can also help you focus when you’re working or studying because it blocks out distractions.
This is actually an auditory illusion that is created when you hear two tones, each one with a slightly different frequency, one in each ear, simultaneously. This causes your brain to create a third tone with a frequency that is equal to the difference between the two tones you are hearing. For example, if you hear a tone of 405 Hz in your right ear and a tone of 415 Hz in your left ear, you will hear a binaural beat with a frequency of 10 Hz. Binaural beats are believed to have many health benefits including stress reduction, improved sleep, increased concentration, and improved problem-solving.
Video Game Music
This one might be a surprise, but if you think about it, it makes complete sense because this type of music is composed specifically to help you focus on your gaming experience. Listening to video game soundtracks that are uplifting can keep you engaged in and focused on your task at hand. So even if you’re not a gamer, playing soundtracks while you work, can boost your productivity.
Sounds of Nature
While this is technically not music, natural sounds such as the ocean, a rainstorm, and whale songs do have positive effects on your mental health. They can be particularly soothing if you are stressed or feeling anxious and because they are so soothing, they can help you sleep better if you suffer from insomnia. Because they are relaxing, natural sounds can also help you concentrate when you are working or studying.
The Healing Power of Music
More and more health benefits of music and benefits of music for mental health are coming to light. As they do, this creates more possibilities for therapeutic treatments that use music in different ways. Don’t forget music can help you feel happier, less stressed, and can help you concentrate. So, next time you’re feeling down or you’re finding it difficult to focus, put on a strategic playlist, it might help you more than you think.
You could design specific playlists for when you need your mood uplifted, times you need to focus, or a playlist of sleep sounds for better sleep.
To learn more about your genetic stress and sleep tendencies, and to learn more about your overall health and personality traits, take a CircleDNA test to get a comprehensive health report.