Music and Mental Health

Music is awesome!  We all have our favorite genres of music and everyone has a favorite song.  Music is a common denominator for us all.  Personally, I listen to everything from the blues to old-school rap – the new hard-core rap is just too much for me, but the old-school stuff still can get me going.  I do, however, have a love/hate relationship with music.  When I am in a depressive episode, I must pay very close attention to what I listen to.  The radio stations in the car can get switched a lot during those times.

We all know that music can evoke a strong emotional response be it happy, sad, angry or whatever.  For me, I connect life stories to different songs.  Some songs take me back so vividly that I will feel the emotions I felt at that time.  For example, every time I hear “When I’m Gone” by 3 Doors Down, it immediately takes me back to when Eric deployed to Iraq for the first time.  While listening to the song I relive the emotions of him leaving, of not knowing if he would ever come home.  I think about all the time spent with my friends whose husbands were also deployed – the things we did to pass the time and distract ourselves; the conversations we’d have to reassure one another.  I remember not wanting to watch the news very much for fear of seeing coverage of Eric’s unit under fire.  All of that from that one song!

This relationship with music goes back as far as I can remember.  “Magic Man” by Heart reminds me of nighttime car rides with my dad when I was around five to six years old.  I remember those rides were trips home from my grandparents’ house.  The memory is so vivid that I can even remember the smell of the car.  “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” by Linda Ronstadt evokes the same kind of response of car trips to Florida with my mom to visit those grandparents.  Right down to the smell of boiled peanuts.  Good times!

You can see though why I have to watch what I listen to when I’m down in the dumps.  Songs that remind me of sad or troubled times do not sit well with my brain and can send me spiraling further downward.  Thankfully though, I have a long list of songs that bring back good memories or just make me feel good inside.  I have a special playlist for the down times.  “Peace Frog” by The Doors, “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince, “I’m a Believer” by The Monkees or Smashmouth, “Planetary GO!” by My Chemical Romance and “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake make up a small sample.  If you notice, they are all up-beat songs.  It helps.

There are a few songs that make me feel mixed emotions, like “Sweet Child of Mine” and “November Rain” by Guns n Roses.  It really depends on my mood at the time when I hear them.  If I’m in a good mood, I can listen, and they make me happy.  They are such good jams.  But if I’m already kind of down, listening to them can make me cry.  There are good and bad stories attached to each one.  Then there’s the old gospel song “I’ll Fly Away.”  It reminds me of times spent with my great-grandmother and my grandmother.  My heart will hurt because I miss them, but the actual song lifts my spirit with its message and the memories attached to it.  There have even been times that I have smiled through the tears while listening to all of them. 

Some of the songs I usually avoid altogether are “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica, “Lightening Crashes” by Live, “You Were Always on My Mind” by Willie Nelson and “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zepplin (I know right?!?).  Bad stories and feelings connected to them all.  At least there are far fewer of the bad.  But notice that for the most part they all tend toward the slower beat.

There have been several studies done lately exploring the connection between music and mental health proving what so many of us have known to be true for a long time.  Researchers have found that music can actually change brain chemistry and even affect the production of components of a healthy immune system.  They have also proven that listening to sad music can truly bring you down and that listening to up-beat music can raise dopamine levels chemically raising your mood.  Some studies have even noted the use of music as a pain reliever that work as well as medication.

Music therapy has slowly been gaining recognition as a valid and valuable way to deal with anxiety, depression and trauma.  It has also been used to treat ADHD, autism, OCD and Alzheimer’s.  There are four main parts to music therapy:  lyric analysis, instrument playing, active music listening and songwriting.  Each discipline allows participants to express themselves in different ways.  Even sad music can be used to work through certain emotional trauma.

Most of the time it comes down to the rhythm of the song.  If you are anxious, a slower more soothing song can bring down your heartbeat allowing more focused behavior.  While if you are depressed, a faster paced rhythm can get you moving and engaged.  In autism patients, music has been known to help them communicate emotions that they would normally be unable to convey.  In the case of Alzheimer’s patients, music can stimulate memory in much the same way that music works for me – stories connected to songs.

Point of all this is that the right kind of music really is good for the body and soul.  While music does not replace medication for mental health disorders, it certainly can help.  So, if you’re feeling blue or anxious, turn up the radio, YouTube or your own playlist and get those feel good vibes going.  It’s good for your mental health!

One thought on “Music and Mental Health

  1. all time fav of mine is Forever Young – Rod Stewart; all about my children (including nieces and nephews; the image of their young beautiful lives in front of me. I grew up, and still do, enjoying not only the music itself but all of the movies that included the music. It is a wonderful place to escape the plague of the day. Of course all the praise songs too, worship time with my Lord, so very important. God loves music, so make a joyful noise unto the Lord!

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