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The Relationship Between Music and Mental Health

Cropped SingleCare logo By | February 17, 2016

Music has been used in conjunction with medicine for thousands of years — but only just recently are scientists beginning to test the true extent of music’s impact on health. The results may surprise you.

You know that feeling you get when you hear your favorite song? How you just feel… better? What many have felt intuitively is now increasingly being backed by science: listening to music can be good for your health. Research is showing that music can have positive effects on both our physical and mental health and, in some cases, can be even more effective than prescription drugs. From treating depression to managing stress in the face of surgery, the new findings on music therapy are giving us more to dance about.

Pachelbel, Anyone?

Symphony orchestra, with 'cellos
DeshaCAM/Thinkstock

While it may not come as a surprise, there is now proof that music reduces stress according to the NIH, similar to more active treatments like massage therapy. In one study, a group of 87 college students were asked to give an oral presentation with either Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major playing in the background or in silence. The group that presented while listening to the piece had lower levels of stress indices, such as heart rate and pressure. In patients waiting for an operation, music has been also shown to reduce anxiety more effectively even than the sedative Midazolam.

Listening to slow music can help induce a meditative state by altering brain waves, according to Stanford. Our brainwaves match the rhythm of beats in a song — slow beats encourage a kind of hypnosis, which can ease symptoms of migraines, PMS, and even behavioral issues, while faster beats stimulate the brain, possibly encouraging alertness and concentrated thinking. There is also evidence that suggests music can improve cognitive performance, as USA Today reports: test takers listening to songs completed more questions and got more correct than those who tested in silence. However, this may only be true if the music first elevates the person’s emotional state (for which there is also evidence).

Listen In, Lighten Up

Music therapy has been a part of Western medicine since the 1950s, and since then it has become a crucial tool in cancer treatments. Music therapy helps cancer patients achieve a better quality of life by aiding in the communication of fear and sadness, managing stress, and alleviating pain. Similarly, and quite incredibly, researchers in Finland found that listening to music two hours a day helped patients recovering from stroke improve their verbal memory and attention, along with boosting their moods. According to the researchers, Mozart, Bach, and Italian composers are “ideal” for therapeutic use.

In the same vein, music can help ease the symptoms of depression, as well as pain in geriatric patients. The research does suggest, though, that the kind of music matters, in addition to the patient’s taste in music, according to the American Psychological Association.

Generally, classical and meditative music are the best at lifting spirits, while heavy metal and techno can actually amplify the depressive symptoms. Listening to classical music before bed may result in better sleep quality for adults, as Psychology Today reports. It not only increases the duration and efficiency of sleep, but also decreases the time it takes to fall asleep and dysfunction during the day.

Stay in Tune

No matter your taste, there are clear mental health benefits of listening to music. Whether it’s lifting you out of a rut, helping you study, or putting you at ease in stressful moments, music is a powerful emotional tool.

But sometimes, you need more than a song. Taking care your mental well-being should be at the top of your list, and that may mean talking to a doctor. SingleCare members can search an online database of practitioners to find a mental health professional in their area at an affordable rate, even for those without traditional insurance coverage. Stay in tune with your brain and get the care you need when you need it.

(Main image credit: MM Productions/Thinkstock)