Music and The Brain

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Mental health problems continue to be a hot topic worldwide. I wanted to write about how music can help with mental health.  It is the reason why I introduced music to my home. I love hearing my kids humming and singing along around the house. They are happier kids because of music.

How music help with mental health.

Music therapy can be used with children, adolescents and adults with developmental disabilities and mental health needs as well as seniors affected by age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. 

This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession is a good book to read on the good benefits music has to your brain.

Some benefits of Music are:

  • Express yourself and talk about feelings you find difficult to process/discuss 
  • Deal with past trauma and emotions 
  • Improve social skills and emotion regulation 
  • Give you better faith and confidence in yourself 

Music Improves Memory

Researchers have found the first evidence that young children who take music lessons show different brain development and improved memory over the course of a year compared to children who do not receive musical training, according to research published in the journal Brain.

Anxiety (General and Social)

Anxiety comes in many forms, from a mild version that causes some disturbance to a crippling beast that you just can’t shake. Regardless of the form you live with, it is a difficult illness to have, but also one that might be able to benefit from the excellence of music therapy.

When listening to music, or creating it, the levels of cortisol in our bodies is lowered dramatically, and this also decreases your heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels. It creates a more relaxed environment, and the longer you spend listening to/creating it in a chilled location, the better you are going to feel. Plus, it creates an enhanced feeling of satisfaction and pride when you create something.

Social anxiety works in much the same way, and spending some time listening to music will help you to feel calmer and more confident in your abilities and the plans you have made. Case studies have shown that patients who underwent music therapy for their anxiety ended up feeling less anxious and more relaxed by the time it was over, and this is a very positive step forward.

Depression 

One of the things we look at later on is the fact that sad music can actually make you feel more depressed than you were before, and so you need to try something different. Depression can be hard to cope with, regardless of how severe or mild your strain is, and music is often a great tool to help combat these feelings of failure and inadequacy.

NHS studies found that those who took music therapy courses were less likely to drop out of the sessions and had a higher attendance rating than those who took part in normal counseling. After three months of music therapy, the depression levels in the patients were much lower than when they left – especially when compared to the group that was receiving standard care.

Music can also reduce your blood pressure, leaving you feeling more relaxed and comfortable while you listen to tunes or create new ones. Being able to create something beautiful also offers you a sense of validation and self-worth, while also providing you with a good dose of serotonin to boost your mood and leave your day ending on a brighter note.

On the whole, music therapy gets you to socialize with others and express yourself, while also giving you the chance to grab onto a little happiness while you ride the wave out and start feeling a little normal again.

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

Whether you have been through singular or multiple traumas, there is a chance that you may have PTSD. This often consists of feelings of anxiety, tension, and dread, as well as vivid nightmares (or night terrors) and flashbacks to the event in question. Any way you slice it, this condition is not a kind one, and it can be very difficult to live with and try to overcome.

Studies have shown that PTSD can be successfully calmed with music. They show that music can reduce prominent symptoms of PTSD like emotionally-dysregulating intrusions, avoidance, mood swings, arousal, and high reactivity. It can lead to an improved ability to function properly, meaning that you can try to live your life as normally as possible once the music therapy starts to kick in.

The music works by triggering a release of good chemicals and hormones throughout the body, like dopamine and serotonin. These can work to distract the body from negative thoughts that have started, but also help to boost your mood overall so that you can start to feel a little better in yourself.

The music travels through the brain and to the auditory cortex, which is linked to emotion, memory, and body control, so your mind can work together to create a more calming environment. 

OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)

Contrary to popular belief, OCD is not all about cleaning and washing your hands. It is also intrusive thoughts that won’t leave you alone and harmful habits that you never seem to be able to stop. It can be a stressful way to live, and one that feels as though you never get any respite from. Music can provide a little escape from your mind, and be very beneficial while doing so.

There is a lot of pent-up frustration with OCD, and studies by Jose Van Den Hurk have shown that playing music can help those with OCD to properly express the way they feel over time, and as they become more comfortable around their therapist.

This form of expression can even lead to physical talks about the way they are feeling and what they are struggling with. Music therapy can also increase spontaneity and the willingness to try something new and unpredictable.

The OCD mind is often locked in routine, and the notion of doing something that has not been planned gets your mind out of that and has you focus on better and more positive things. It shuts down the thoughts that have been flooding through your mind because it is flowing and does not get stuck in loops like your head

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

While it is most commonly associated with children, ADHD does last into adulthood, and it can be just as difficult to cope with. A lack of concentration and focus, as well as seemingly endless energy, can leave those that have the condition feeling drained and frustrated. The mind has too much going on, and there feels like it’s impossible to refocus it.

Music therapy has been shown to increase the amount of dopamine produced by the body, and this is the neurotransmitter responsible for concentration and working memory. People with ADHD have low levels of it, and so music provides a good and increased dose to keep things running smoothly. It also engages both sides of the brain, helping them to become stronger and also boosting creativity.

Due to both sides being activated at once, it also means that you can improve your concentration, and the distracted part of the mind can focus on the music while you concentrate on something else. This is part of improving multi-tasking as well as audio-processing and smoother thought processes.

Bullet In Her Brain

Gabrielle Giffords was a former US politician who was shot in the head in January 2011. Her skull was shuttered and the severe brain trauma disabled her ability to speak. Look her up and be inspired by the amazing recovery and how she got her voice back through music therapy. Google: “Gabby Giffords Finding Voice Through Music Therapy”

I hope you find this blog helpful!

6 thoughts on “Music and The Brain”

  1. Great article! I can relate to this on a personal level. As a person with chronic depression, I find great solace in music. I play the guitar and I’m trying to learn the piano, but I think my fingers are too short; they cramp easily. I know that my technique is probably way off, but do you have any suggestions on how relax the hands while playing?

    Reply
    • Hello Michel,

      Thank you for sharing. I applaud your bravery. Having a chronic depression is difficult and am so glad you have music with you to fight alongside you. Music has helped me so much. This is my first try to learn to play a music instrument and I have the same problem with my hand on the piano. My daughter is way a head of me on the piano lessons so I asked her opinion about how to relax the hand. She said “I close my eyes and imagine that I am holding an apple in my hands on the piano” lol. I suggest you take a deep breath and picture the most peaceful scene you could imagine. It can be something you’ve experience or seen in the past anything that can relax your mind. You will be surprise how your shoulder, your body and your hand will feel relax after this.

      Best of luck to you,
      Jen and Bree

      Reply
  2. Hi, I really enjoyed reading this. I’ve been into music for most of my life. I was brought up in the 70’s when there was so much classic music around. I spent my formative years going to gigs and have seen some of the biggest names in music in the World.

    Music can either move you to tears or make you jump up and down with joy. This can be done simply with a particular chord progression or with the lyrical content. If both are combined it can induce an almost orgasmic high. Having goosebumps through music is one of the most individual thrills there is.

    The Power of Music is universal, from the foothills of The Andes to the Steppes of Russia. It’s the universal language of both pleasure and pain.

    Dave

    Reply
    • Hi Dave,

      Thank you very much for taking the time to share your thoughts on this page. You seem very knowledgeable about the topic so I really appreciate all the information that you’ve shared here. I have benefited from the power of music in so many levels. I have felt that goosebumps too, it’s an amazing feeling.

      Cheers,
      Jen and Bree

      Reply
  3. Jen, thanks for sharing all this awesome information! I recently picked up playing the ukulele. This is the first instrument in my life that I have played, and although I am grateful that I do not suffer from any of the things above, I have found that playing a song I know well makes me relax and unwind! Also, when I am learning a new song it’s amazing how I feel like I can literally feel my brain working and growing! Do you know anything about that?

    Reply
    • Hi Vince,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’m glad to hear you are learning how to play the ukulele. I am also learning to play the piano. It really calms me down after a long day at work. There’s definitely physical effects of music on the brain. One effect is that “music can trigger autobiographical memories and positive emotions associated with nostalgia and reminiscence.” This is a statement from a neurologist who has done a good amount of research on music and the brain. There are plenty more positive benefits of music for our brains. Maybe I can expand on this on another blog post 😉

      Best Regards,
      Jen and Bree

      Reply

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