boy feeling sad

Music and mental health

There’s been a lot of chatter in the world media this week about mental health.

Prince Harry and Oprah released their docu-series on Netflix. Also, Prince William spoke up against the BBC’s manipulation of Princess Diana’s mental health issues, to get their (in)famous interview with her.

So, that got me thinking about my own mental health. The stress of this uncertain season in our lives is stretching on. As parents, there are so many balls that we are all juggling.

One of my wise family members always says:

“You can’t pour from an empty cup”.

When we’re already feeling stretched and pulled in so many directions, we need to manage our stress!

There are lots of ways to manage stress, but my passion is music. So, today I’m researching and writing about whether MUSIC has a role to play in stress management. And if it does, how effective is it?

An emotional response

We know that music provokes an emotional response. Listening to certain music makes us feel a certain way! Music triggers memories and memories trigger emotions.

I’ve covered this topic already in one of my earlier blogs which you can read here –

Music for stress management

The question I’m asking today is what research has been done on the effects of music as a tool for relieving and managing stress?

“We have a such a deep connection to music because it is ‘hardwired’ in our brains and bodies”

says Barbara Else, senior advisor of policy and research at the American Music Therapy Association.

That makes sense because music is such a part of our design as humans. Things like rhythm, melody, pitch are built into the fabric of our beings!

Given this deep connection, it is unsurprising that numerous studies have shown it can benefit our mental health.

A 2011 study by researchers from McGill University in Canada found that listening to music increases the amount of dopamine produced in the brain – a mood-enhancing chemical. Could music be one of the feasible treatments for depression? Researchers suggest it could. 

Feeling down? Listen to your favourite music!

In 2015, Brunel University in the UK led a study which suggested that music may reduce pain and anxiety for surgical patients.

A study was done using 72 randomized controlled trials involving more than 7,000 patients who received surgery. Researchers found those who were played music after their procedure reported feeling less pain and anxiety than those who did not listen to music.

They were also less likely to need pain medication.

Interestingly, this effect was more profound with patients who got to choose the music they listened to.

Little girl cuddling her teddy

How does music ease our pain?

It’s not 100% clear, but researchers believe one reason is because listening to music triggers the release of opioids in the brain. Opioids are the body’s natural pain relievers. 

Dr. Daniel Levitin and his colleagues at McGill University in Canada talk about this theory in a 2013 review. They cite research that found people experienced less pleasure while listening to their favourite music, when given Naltrexone. Naltrexone is a drug that blocks opioid signals, suggesting that music induces the release of opioids to ease pain.

What about music’s effect on children?

A study conducted in 2013 at Great Ormond Street’s Children’s Hospital in the UK found that not only did listening to music help reduce pain and anxiety for children, it helped to reduce stress too.  

According to some researchers, music may help alleviate stress by lowering the body’s cortisol levels. This is the hormone released in response to stress. 

The review by Dr. Levitin and colleagues, however, suggests this stress-relieving effect is dependent on what type of music one listens to. Relaxing music was found most likely to lower cortisol levels.

What’s the sound bite?

Listening to your favourite music is scientifically proven to improve your mood, reduce stress and anxiety. It may even reduce pain.

So, what are you waiting for? Play your favourite tune!