Part 3: The impact of music on mental health, wellbeing and stress relief

Music is a powerful tool. Aside from its entertainment value, listening to music is known to have incredible positive effects to our brain and our wellbeing. More specifically, music can change the way we act, feel and think, almost instantaneously. This notion that music can influence our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours probably does not come as much of a surprise. When listening to music, our brains trigger particular emotions, memories and thoughts, which often leads to more positive effects in terms of our mental health.

Let’s reflect back; do you remember that pumped up feeling whilst listening to your favourite rock anthem and just wanting to dance? Or been moved to tears by a live performance which pulled at your heart strings? Or think when you’ve been extremely stressed out and anxious, how did you feel when you put your headphones on and listened to a playlist which brings down your adrenaline and lets you focus on the here and now? Got it? Then you can very easily understand the power of music and how it can impact our mental health, moods and even inspire positive action.

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Music and mental health

Researchers from McGill University found that music releases the feel-good hormone, dopamine, in our brains. In this study, levels of dopamine were found to be up to 9% higher when participants were listening to music they enjoyed. The report states it’s significant in proving that humans obtain pleasure from music – an abstract reward. With this in mind, people who are experiencing mental health can actively listen to their preferred music as a means to help calm them down, decrease their adrenaline levels and increase their “happy hormones”.

Levels of dopamine were found to be up to 9% higher when participants were listening to music they enjoyed.

GCBH Executive Director Sarah Lenz Lock, AARP’s senior vice president for policy

In the same way that music can make you happy, the same reaction and release of dopamine can be considered a natural antidepressant for us all. According to the British Association for Music Therapy, music can really help those with psychological and emotional needs. Aiming to help with mental health, music relies on a sensory stimulation to provoke a positive response to certain situations.

Fascinatingly, one of the main reasons for the success of music when it comes to managing mental health is that it can assist in keeping your cardiovascular system in tune. Listening to music can have an affect on your heartbeat, either speeding it up if there’s a higher bpm on the track, or slowing it down when you hear more relaxing beats.

Especially now, in times when people are feeling sad, stressed and isolated because of the COVID-19 pandemic, people should definitely turn to music to better their mental wellbeing.

GCBH Executive Director Sarah Lenz Lock, AARP’s senior vice president for policy
music and business branding

Music as a stress-buster

Music is one of the best stress-busters out there; its ability to be a stress reliever should not be downplayed. It’s accessible basically everywhere and to anyone, there is an abundance of never-ending choice dependent on your emotions, and it can have such a deep impact without much effort on our part. The soothing power of relaxing music and its close link to our emotions can be a really effective stress management tool, helping us calm down and maybe even take a breather. It can be a great way to distract yourself from a stressful situation, while also clearing the mind before readdressing the issue with a fresh, thought out approach.

A recent study by Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson of Mindlab International has shown instrumental, classical or ambient music can help reduce anxiety by up to 65%.

Listening to music has the potential to relax our minds as well as our bodies. It’s not only your blood pressure that listening to music can lower, but also your cortisol levels. Cortisol is the human stress hormone, and the higher it is, the more stressed we feel. Research has found that symphonic music can lower cortisol levels, regardless of the listeners music preferences.

There are a multitude of research surveys nowadays, especially with the Pandemic, which are articulating how music and stress relief are so closely linked. For example, findings from the 2020 AARP Music and Brain Health Survey, a nationally representative survey of 3,185 adults that found that listening to music — whether in the background, by focused listening to recordings or at musical performances — had a positive impact on mental wellbeing, depression and anxiety.

Push play: how music enhances mood and wellbeing

Ever heard of entrainment? It’s a fascinating scientific principle which, in essence, explains our body’s natural ability to sync our internal rhythms (e.g. breath rate, heart rate) to that of the music. Being in sync with the music not only brings pleasure, but it means we have the ability to control our fight or flight response, change our moods and enhance our overall wellbeing. This is important in today’s stressful world, because our body’s fight or flight response and fluctuating emotions are more active than before. 

Music can affect our emotions in different ways. According to the Impact of Music and Mood report, whilst music can influence our mood, our mood can also influence the music that we choose to listen to. It continues that happy, upbeat music causes our brains to produce chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, which evokes feelings of joy, whereas calming music relaxes the mind and the body. 

A strong mental wellbeing is closely aligned with feeling content, optimistic and positive. It’s therefore so imperative to know which type of music does what for your mood and feelings, so if you need that lift, you listen to X, and if you’re feeling you need to unwind, you listen to Y. It’s also so important for businesses to capitalise on this opportunity of using background music to make their guests and customers feel a certain way and associate their brand with certain positive attributes. For example, if you’re in a Spa, tranquil, classical and nature sounds would work best to calm your nervous system and mind, whereas heavy metal would, on the whole, do the opposite. 

There are many ways that music can be harnessed to change our moods, as there is no-one fits all approach when it comes to music choice. Finding the right music is dependent on a varying variables, but here are a couple rules-of-thumb:

  • Tempo: Tempo is how fast or slow the music is. When you’re selecting your music to fit your emotional needs, make sure you prioritise music tempo. If you want to calm down, pick a song anywhere from 60-100 bpm, but ensure that song makes you feel calm and relaxed, not down and gloomy. Whereas, if you want to get pumped up or find energy to push through your day, pick something anywhere from 110-130 bpm.
  • Lyrics: This is an interesting one, as on the whole, research suggests that music without lyrics is more conducive for relaxing, staying focused and getting things completed as there are less disruptions. Others may disagree and say singing / tapping to your favourite song may be the remedy for slowing down and changing your mood / energy.

So, how does this sound to you? 

It’s therefore so transparent how music can be used as an automatic stress relief and a tool which can help with moods and wellbeing. Don’t miss the opportunity to ensure your music is in tune for the kind of experience you’re aiming to build and maintain. Ambie are here to help finding a music genre and bespoke curated playlists that can be enjoyed in your setting and are found to be soothing. Simply get in touch here.

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