Music and Its Effects on Mental Health

Music and Its Effects on Mental Health

does music help with mental health

Music affects us — and surely you’ve experienced it. 

  • Do you have a playlist especially for the gym to get you pumped to exercise?
  • Do you listen to calming classical music to help you drift off to sleep?
  • Have you ever played some cool jazz music to set the mood for your special date?
  • Or does hearing a particular song bring back cherished memories?

If any of those is true of you, you’ve experienced the effects of music on your mental health, maybe without even knowing it.

But just how does music have such an incredible impact on our minds and emotions?

In this guide, we’ll dig into the reasons music can affect us so deeply and what those effects may be.

Table of Contents

Does Music Help With Mental Health?

Yes. Music can impact our mental health in many ways, both directly and indirectly. 

Two studies published in the Journal of Positive Psychology showed that participants improved their short-term mood and long-term happiness by listening to upbeat, happy music.

And this is good news since music is a major part of our lives. 

According to a 2017 study by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology, children and adolescents spend an average of 2.5 hours a day listening to music. And according to a more recent poll, over 50% of young adults aged 18 to 29 and 24% of adults over 30 years old stream music every day.

music impact on mental health

How Does Music Impact Mental Health? 

Music can impact our mental health directly by stimulating hormones. Music has a way of making us feel happy, relaxed, and engaged emotionally. 

Music can also contribute indirectly to physical health benefits related to heart and cognitive function.

Let’s take a look at the science behind music and mental health to see how music can have such a powerful effect on both our minds and bodies.

2 Direct Effects of Music on Mental Health

Music can affect our mental health directly in two ways:

  1. Through stimulating hormones
  2. By helping us get in touch with feelings

#1: Music Stimulates Hormones 

Our bodies have over 50 hormones that control a variety of processes such as metabolism, growth, reproduction, and mood.

Music can stimulate or lower hormones like:

  • Oxytocin (happy/love hormone)
  • Cortisol (stress hormone)
  • Serotonin (mood-stabilizing hormone); and  
  • Dopamine (feel-good hormone)

For example, a study published in Sage Journals showed that group singing caused an elevation in oxytocin levels and was also correlated with mood. In the same study, cortisol levels were shown to decrease with both individual and group singing.

Oxytocin is also known as the “love hormone” because of its association with building trust and empathy. 

Because oxytocin levels may rise when listening or participating in making music, music can become a significant means of fostering relationships and bonding among individuals.

Lowers Stress and Anxiety

Cortisol is the hormone most commonly associated with the fight-or-flight response and is the main stress hormone in the body. Though cortisol is an essential hormone, too much of it can raise stress levels and blood pressure.

Studies show that listening to music can lower cortisol levels and reduce stress.

A paper published in 2019 showed that anxiety levels were lowered in college students who listened to classical music every day for two months.

Perhaps the most convincing study was one performed in 2016, which measured levels of stress brought on by fear of heights in a virtual reality scenario. Participants rode up nine floors on an elevator in a virtual simulation; one group listened to music, and the other group did not. The research showed that those who listened to music recovered from the stressful experience quicker than those who didn’t.

Decreases Depression

Depression can not only be debilitating, but it also has effects on your brain, including loss of gray matter and alterations in the:

  • Frontal lobe
  • Hippocampus
  • Temporal lobe
  • Thalamus
  • Striatum; and
  • Amygdala

Additionally, neurotransmitting hormones like …

  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine; and
  • Serotonin

… have a role to play in depression. 

In 2020, the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) released the Music and Brain Health report with promising findings on the potential of music to support brain health. 

In addition to the GCBH report, another survey is included that shows listening to music has a positive effect on depression and well-being.

Increases Dopamine Levels

Dopamine is the “feel-good” hormone that is raised when you expect some sort of reward. 

Dopamine levels can rise in all kinds of situations, including:

  • Shopping
  • Smelling cookies baking; or
  • Any other activity you enjoy

Receiving alerts and notifications on your smartphone can even raise dopamine levels.

Low dopamine levels can result in:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low motivation
  • Anxiety; and
  • Moodiness

Music has a canny way of boosting dopamine production, which can help relieve some of these symptoms. 

Research by Dr. Valorie Salimpoor shows that music can have beneficial effects on dopamine production not only when listening to pleasurable musical climaxes but also when anticipating those moments.

So when you’re listening to your favorite piece of music and think, “I love this part,” you’ll likely get a small spike in dopamine leaving you feeling happy and fulfilled.

how does music impact mental health

#2: Music Can Help Us Get in Touch With Our Feelings

Whether you’re listening to music, writing music, or making music yourself, research and experience show that involvement in music helps us get in touch with and express our emotions.

Any genre, whether it’s …

  • Classical
  • Jazz
  • Pop
  • Love songs; or
  • Broadway

… can offer a pathway to deeply experience and express your feelings.

‘Feel’ Your Feelings

Listening to or playing classical music is a great way to dive into your feelings. 

A serene and peaceful piano piece may be just the style to put you in a contemplative mood. Or an upbeat, rhythmic song may help you express your joy and happiness. Maybe you’re dealing with loss and sadness, and a familiar song or tune can aid in relieving the pain you’re feeling.

Playing an instrument or improvising can also be a therapeutic way to effectively express emotions.

If you’d like to be able to create your own music, Northwest School of Music offers both instrument and voice lessons to help you express yourself in your unique and personal way.

music and its effects on mental health
Talk About Your Feelings

Songwriters, more than any other musicians, may be most well-versed in expressing themselves through songs and lyrics. Losing a loved one, going through a breakup, or experiencing joy from completing a challenge are all situations that can be shared beautifully through music.

Listening to song lyrics can also be a way to express your feelings when your words don’t quite seem to work. Hearing a song several times and pondering the lyrics can help you borrow someone else’s words to express what you’re thinking and feeling.

2 Indirect Effects of Music on Mental Health

It’s not surprising to learn that when we feel well physically, we are more apt to be well mentally. Being healthy and fit can lead to less stress and anxiety and more joy and energy.

The reverse is true also. 

Our physical health can be affected by our mental well-being. Research shows that stress and mental health issues can lead to physical health issues like heart disease and cancer.

Not only does music affect mental health directly through hormone stimulation and getting in touch with our feelings, but the physical and health benefits of music can also indirectly promote mental health. 

#1: Music Can Help With Heart Health

Heart disease is linked with mental health disorders. Dealing with stress, anxiety, or depression for prolonged periods can result in high blood pressure and increased heart rate, which can put you at risk for cardiac issues like heart attacks.

When music aids in mental health, you may also experience better heart health because music can lower both heart rate and blood pressure — both of which are major risk factors for heart disease. 

Lowers Heart Rate 

The brainstem connects the brain to the spinal cord and controls functions like heart rate and blood pressure. The brainstem is also the place where sound processing begins, and this may help explain why listening to certain types of music may lower heart rate. 

Slower, lyrical, classical music is more likely to slow the heart rate, while faster, more rhythmic music may raise the heart rate. 

Lowers Blood Pressure

A study of 659 patients showed that music therapy lowered systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, and heart rate in various settings, including the ICU and pre-operative settings.

In a smaller study to determine how music genres affect heart function, researchers placed participants in three groups for 25 minutes. One group listened to Mozart, another group listened to Strauss, and the last group listened to ABBA. 

Results showed that the groups that listened to Mozart and Strauss had lower blood pressure and heart rate than the group that listened to ABBA. And the music of Mozart had the greatest effect.

So, if you’d like to experience the effect yourself, listen to Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor (the piece used in the study).

#2: Music Can Improve Cognitive Function 

If you want strong muscles, you need to regularly exercise them. The same is true with the brain — you need to regularly exercise your brain to keep it functioning optimally.

Music is a great way to exercise the brain because listening to or playing music requires using both hemispheres of the brain simultaneously. 

Robert Zatorre, a professor at McGill University Montreal’s Neurological Institute, reported findings demonstrating this when his team studied participants listening to altered song fragments. They found that sound is processed in two different parts of the brain.  

Zatorre says, “On the left side, you can decode the speech content but not the melodic content, and on the right side you can decode the melodic content but not the speech content.” 

Johns Hopkins researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to see which parts of the brain light up when jazz players and rappers improvise music. Needless to say, their brains were getting a massive workout because of the mathematical, structural, and architectural nature of music. 

does music help with mental health

To Feel the Effects of Music on Mental Health, Does Genre Matter?

There isn’t any solid research proving that one genre is more beneficial than another.

Each individual has needs, desires, and preferences that are unique to them. Music that helps one person relax may agitate someone else. Finding the music that moves you is an individual endeavor. Experiment and listen to, sing, and play all sorts of genres to find the ones that lift your spirits, help you unwind, or provide motivation — whatever the moment requires.

At Northwest School of Music, we can help you find the music that speaks to you. 

If singing is your thing, we provide private voice lessons and choirs. If you’d prefer to try your hand at an instrument, you can learn to play the …

  • Ukulele
  • Guitar
  • Piano
  • Cello
  • Violin
  • And more

… with our experienced and professional instructors.

Get started today and experience music’s effects on mental health with Northwest School of Music.

music and its effects on mental health

Are You Looking To Improve Your Mental Health? Lessons at Northwest School of Music Can Help

If you’re convinced of the mental health benefits that come with music, you can begin your musical journey and road to mental health with Northwest School of Music.

We want music to be one of the best parts of your life. 

That’s why our lessons are focused on you and your goals. Whether you are learning to play the piano or learning to sing, we want to help you develop your musical skills so you can creatively express yourself  — and have fun at the same time.

We offer individual and group lessons, which allow you to meet like-minded friends and develop social connections — both of which also contribute to mental health.

To find out more or to schedule your first lesson, register here and get your first lesson free.

does music help with mental health
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Northwest School Of Music, 387 Mission Street SE, Salem, Oregon 97302, USA​
503-999-4343​ |​

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503-999-4343​ |​

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