Music and Mental Health

In a post-Covid world, we have all had to find different ways to occupy ourselves and to mind our mental health. We all intuitively know that music has a profound effect on our minds and emotions; perhaps more so now than ever, as we find ourselves in a world that seems to be becoming increasingly choatic and divisive. Music has always had a way to connect us to other people as well, and it was interesting to see how many online collaborations and free, intimate musical performances were shared on social media during the Covid lockdowns.

So how exactly does music affect us and why does it seem to be a universal endeavour among humans. Teyhou Smyth, a therapist at the Centre, delves into the connection between music and mental health in this week’s blog post.


No matter what the occasion, we turn to music. It is the backdrop for our lives for everything from weddings, graduations and funerals to birthday parties and bar mitzvahs. We listen to it, create it, and often we crave it.

Why is music so compelling?

There is a magical quality to it that transports us; it is a balm for difficult times and a rally cry for celebrations and life’s excellent moments. Just like so many other wonders of this world, music has its mysteries. Consider these fascinating facts from The Mozart Effect by Don Campbell:

  • Cows serenaded with Mozart have been known to give more milk than non-classical cows
  • Studies in the 90s proved that music improves cognitive functioning, concentration, and intuitive thought for all ages
  • Patients with Schizophrenia can experience lower rates of auditory hallucination and have shown improved clinical outcomes using music therapy
  • In a study of 233 depressed patients, 93% showed improvement and reduced suicidal ideation as a result of music therapy

Music impacts our minds and bodies. Intuitively, we already know this since we rely on it in our daily lives. The multitude of studies over the years have only validated this knowledge and shown us that it goes even deeper than we could have imagined.

Why Music Works

While we haven’t uncovered all of the secrets of music’s healing abilities, science has revealed some of the answers. If anything, the bits of information we have gleaned enhances our fascination and makes music even more compelling.

Music increases the amount of serotonin in the brain, which is a neurotransmitter that impacts mood and a sense of wellness. Because of its serotonin-boosting effects, music is a natural, non-invasive depression reducer.

Music reduces pain levels in the body as a result of increased endorphins. It has been proven to speed up healing time for injuries through the mechanism of varying chemical releases that music promotes within the brain and body.

The Dark Side of Music’s Influence

For every yin there must be yang. Even music has a dark side. Excessively loud music disturbs brain symmetry between the hemispheres and can increase feelings of emotional disturbance. An Australian psychiatrist conducted a study that showed certain musical beats and frequencies negatively affected muscle strength and heart rate. Music that is harmoniously discordant can reduce the rate of mental retention and increase levels of aggressiveness and hyperactivity.

That is not to say that any one type of music is good or bad, but there is a definite correlation between different frequencies and rhythms that have a range of effects physically and emotionally. When we channel these effects to suit our purposes in daily life, there are all kinds of amazing outcomes.

How Music Can Help You in Daily Life

Fuel your workout
Listening to music before a workout increases arousal and increases performance. During a workout, music reduces fatigue and increases positive mood. Music also helps divert attention away from discomfort during a workout, increasing endurance.

Improve focus
Whether you are working on a report, crunching numbers or any other intensive mental task, listening to music can help improve your focus. Classical music has been found as an effective type of music for this purpose, as listening to music with lyrics decreases attention span.

Improve your sleep
Listening to relaxing music before bed improves sleep. Once again, the type of music matters since lyrical music and songs with rapid tempos can make sleep symptoms worse.

Music transcends our understanding in so many ways. We know it feels good to listen to our favourite tunes, but the physical, mental and emotional benefits that we experience as a secondary gain are extraordinary.

[This blog post originally appeared on Teyhou’s website ~ some content may have been modified for the UK and Irish context.]

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