Music for Your Mental Health

Music for Your Mental Health

I rarely do anything without music. I’m blasting my favorite tunes in my earbuds when I’m working out, I’ve got bangers on my bathroom Sonos while I’m taking a shower, and there’s even a “Chill Sounds” playlist pouring out of my laptop whenever I’m writing or working. And I’m not alone - many people are eschewing silence for music, more now than ever before.

The numbers are impressive. Last year, over 193 million people, or 68% of the U.S. adult population, actively listened to music daily, which is over a million more than in 2020. According to Trinity Audio, the average American listened to about 16 hours and 14 minutes (or about 325 songs) every week.


But unlike statistics about social media and binge watching, these numbers aren’t concerning. In fact, it’s probably a good thing. Why? Because music has been scientifically proven to have a positive effect on our emotional well-being. It improves our mood, decreases anxiety, and helps us manage stress. "There are so many mechanisms that explain the powerful impact that listening to a piece of music can have,” says Suzanne Hanser, president of the International Association for Music & Medicine and a professor of music therapy at Berklee College of Music.

Hanser was part of a research team that, along with the Global Council on Brain Health, found that music’s impact starts in the brain, where the sounds activate many regions, including those associated with emotion and memory. “The music that was played at your wedding or even at a concert you attended or a dance you were at - that music remains preserved for those neuropathways, which connect that song with really positive feelings,” she says.

There has also been a lot of research into the tempo of music. There have been numerous studies proving that listening to classical music helps the mind to focus. Music with a tempo of 60 BPM (beats per minute) has been found to increase the brain’s ability to process information. There have also been studies suggesting that both classical music and electronic dance music help sharpen focus while studying by stimulating your brain’s potential for retaining and executing information.

Similarly, a recent analysis of Spotify data found that people respond to lo-fi (short for low fidelity) music when getting in the zone for work. This is because it sharpens your focus, according to researchers. The lo-fi genre is a mishmash of jazz, electronic and hip-hop with certain “imperfections” that help the brain’s frontal lobe concentrate.

Want to boost your confidence? Try piping in some subliminal and ambient music such as binaural beat music. This is when you hear two tones (one in each ear) that are slightly different in frequency. It creates something of an auditory illusion, which has been proven to assist in social anxiety and those suffering with low confidence or self esteem issues. Without getting too deep into the science, it utilizes alpha waves to help the mind get into a more sharpened and confident state by altering your “brain state” to a more happy, calm sense of being. And this helps when you’re feeling nervous, fearful or anxious. Which is why some doctors suggest binaural beats for meditation and those with sleep trouble as well.

Professor Hanser says it’s easy to adapt techniques used by trained music therapists. One of them is what she calls “deep or active listening.” Instead of putting on music as background noise, set aside time to concentrate on what you hear - take note of the sounds, feelings and bodily sensations (whether that's a slowing of your heart rate or the urge to get up and dance) that arise as you listen. So pop in those earbuds and let’s get to work.

* Listen Up: Here's a popular lo-fi beats playlist from Spotify that will help you focus.

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