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Music: Free Therapy?

Exploring the benefits of listening to music in regard to negative mental health

This article will focus on topics that may be distressing for some individuals so please be cautious when reading.

Almost everyone will struggle with their mental health or know someone who’s struggling. Throughout 2021/22, around 1.81 million people were referred to IAPT (Improving access to psychological therapies), 1.24 million entered treatment for mental health issues, and 688,000 finished a course of treatment. Alongside this, the number of referrals rose from the previous year.

Around the start of the march, I was lucky enough to embark on a trip to New York City, now my time management wasn't the greatest and before the trip, I found myself filled with stress and anxiety regarding money and university, how could I have been so stupid to book a trip in the middle of my dissertation? My own mental struggles meant I found it quite hard to be excited about this trip but as soon as I was in the air looking out of the window with my 'we are going to New York' playlist on (playing way too loud!) I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders, I felt free!

Ironically during my trip, I got stopped in times square and asked to be a part of a TikTok where someone asked me if I felt music impacted my mental health and what sort of music helped. To which I answered yes and then proceeded to praise Taylor swift. For the rest of my trip, I thought about music in a new way, I have always been one of those people that have had extremely niche playlists for every scenario and emotion a person can go through, and I noticed that every time I felt anxious or stressed I would press play on one specific playlist.

This got me thinking, is music my therapy?

Research over the years has proven that listening to music releases dopamine and serotonin, these chemicals naturally help you relax and stay focused. Below will list some of the biological and other benefits of listening to music.

Biologically Beneficial

  • Music can trigger pleasure, as previously mentioned listening to music or creating music attacks the reward center of our brain and releases dopamine. There is also research to suggest that listening to music decreases cortisol production which in theory reduces stress levels.

  • Depending on the type of music you listen to it can slow or speed up your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing, it is recommended that when you feel anxious you should listen to music that's around 60-80 BPM as it will help to moderate your body functioning speed.

Some examples ... Let Her Go - by Passenger / Landslide - by Fleetwood Mac / Everything Has Changed - by Taylor swift Ft. Ed Sheeran.

Other Benefits

  • Research from Ringgold suggests that because of the complex cognitive nature of music, it offers an easy distraction and diversion from any competing internal or external stress stimuli and that when music triggers the pleasure response 'our brain is all too happy to focus on a music signal to the exclusion of anything else' meaning that music becomes the focal point for our minds.

  • Listening to music also fosters creativity whether that is creating music or a playlist or even made-up scenarios in your mind, the creativity blocks out the stress and anxiety you might have previously been feeling.

  • Mediative music can also help your body relax and improve one’s mood. Research has shown that sounds such as pianos and string instruments are extremely effective in helping an individual to relax.

  • Alongside calming you down music can help to regulate other emotions such as anger. Music, where other individuals are expressing their negative emotions or angry thoughts, can help others process their emotions.

Music can make someone feel seen and understood and the added benefits that come alongside these feelings are unmatched. In a society where mental health cases are growing rapidly it can be a daunting feeling but knowing that other artists are going through the same struggles as you, can offer a comforting hand. Listening to music can be a lifeline for someone who is struggling, it can make them feel understood, or motivate them to push forward.

For me music is my happy place, my playlists offer me a completely unique experience every time I listen to them. I turn to music like I would a friend and receive the same feelings of comfort and safety. With the current waitlist for contact with a therapist being around 18 weeks, It might be in your best interest to pick up some headphones and find what music works for you the next time you feel anxious or stressed.

Of course, this won't work for everyone but it will always be worth a try, remember it is okay to not be okay, and if you are struggling make sure to check out MIND.


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