This post was first published in January 2016:
If you think about mental health issues and how to deal with them the first things that spring to mind are medication or talking therapies. Depending on where you live and how your health care system works those can be expensive and not available for everyone.
Choosing music intuitively for relieving mental health issues
Something many people living with mental health issues use intuitively though and that has been used for centuries is music. I have always listened to music. My family loved listening to different sorts of music from classical to The Beatles or German Folk Singers, and they encouraged me to sing children’s songs when I was young as well as taking part in choirs when I was older.
So music has always been a part of my life and when I look back, I realise that my favourite music has helped me to get through difficult times. Early last year I started a playlist on YouTube called “I am stronger than depression” with a collection of songs that improve my mood when depression or anxiety hits. And I also have heard of music therapy but that will be a topic for another time.
How does music help your mental health?
So what is music doing to help you relax or cheer up? Apparently both listening to and making music releases Dopamine a chemical in your brain that creates a feel-good state in connection with other stimuli like food or music.
Music releases Dopamine
The release of Dopamine through music was researched by McGill University in Montreal in 2011. The scientists found out that Dopamine release increases by 9% if you listen to music and that is a 9% higher feel-good state that certainly helps with your mental health.
Music helps you focus.
Music also contributes to focus. If you live with depression or anxiety focussing on anything can be quite a challenge. Classical music is known to help students to concentrate better on their learning, but I believe it also helps in a depressed person’s every day focusing.
Music elevates pain threshold
It is also said that music can help to elevate the pain threshold which is important for people living with mental health issues. So often we are affected by physical pain with no apparent cause. Feeling this pain less is a great relief and music can do that for you.
I often experience a kind of “speechlessness” when anxiety or depression hits. It is hard to express what I feel or finding words for what might help. Music and its lyrics often find exactly those words.
How music helped me in my latest flashback experience
In my latest flashback experience, I often turned to Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” that has the line “Starting from now I’ll be strong”. I felt fragile and a looser but for reasons not known to me this line pushed me to get on and not give up.
I have also learned over the years that it is no good to reprimand myself for not being or doing how I should. Being gentle with myself often helped better to get out of a depressive phase. And that is what Jess Glynne’s whole song “Don’t Be so Hard on Yourself!” expresses. Even though I didn’t like it at first when I read the lyrics I was hooked, and it helped me through the past few months.
Music can have an adverse effect too
Music can have the opposite effect too. Besides the fact that classical music helps you to focus other music might make you feel rather aggressive or make you sad. Jess Glynne’s “Take me home” had a contradictory effect on me. When I heard it, at first, it invariably made me cry. I could not listen for a second without the tears rolling down. I believe though that it helped to let go of the pain I was feeling and the longer I listened to it the more it helped me to feel hope that there are people out there who take care of my broken soul. One for sure is my husband who might not know how much he helps me through difficult times.
Music, only one part of many, to help with your mental health
Of course, music is not a remedy for severe mental health issues, and you should always go and see your doctor or health care provider if you think your mental health is affected. It is one of those little things though that can make a whole lot of difference in dealing with your mental health. Because it is the little things like feeling less pain, finding just that glimmer of hope and being able to focus just that tiny bit more that can get you through a bad day.
Your experience with music and mental health
I would like to hear from you: Do you listen to music when your mental health is down? How does it affect you? And most of all what are your “get-through-the-tough-times” songs?!
Reachout.com ~ Music and Mental Health
Mind ~ Why music is great for your mental health
BBC ~ Music releases “mood enhancing” chemical in brain
Psychology Today ~ Music Therapy for Mental Health and Wellness