Published on May 16, 2023
Authored by Pfizer Medical Team
Isn’t it interesting how hearing a particular song can bring back a special memory or make you feel happy, calm, or pumped up? Listening to music has been shown to provide numerous benefits for people of all ages. Research suggests that music can reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, and enhance cognitive functions, such as memory and attention.1-2 Music therapy has been used to support people with mental health conditions, such as depression and dementia.2 Overall, the benefits of listening to music are vast and diverse, making it an enjoyable and accessible way to improve well-being. In this article, we take a deep dive into the benefits of listening to music and mental health.
Stress and anxiety are common mental health issues that affect 1 in 6 Australians in any given year. 3 In New Zealand, 1 in 5 people are affected by mental illness every year. 4 Fortunately, there are ways to manage these conditions, and one of the most accessible is the power of music.
According to a study, listening to music can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to calm the body and reduce stress responses.1 Furthermore, listening to music has been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone called cortisol, in the body, which can contribute to a sense of relaxation and well-being.
In addition to reducing stress, listening to music can also help to reduce symptoms of anxiety. A study found that patients with anxiety who listened to music for 30 minutes before surgery had significantly lower levels of anxiety compared to those who did not listen to music.5 Similarly, another publication found that listening to calming music reduced symptoms of anxiety in cancer patients.6
One reason that music may help to relieve symptoms of stress and anxiety, is that it can distract us from our worries and negative feelings. When we are absorbed in listening to music, we are less likely to think about stressful or anxious thoughts. Music can bring to mind positive emotions, such as joy, nostalgia, or comfort, which can help to counteract negative emotions associated with stress and anxiety.
While listening to music is a simple and enjoyable way to help manage stress and anxiety, you may need professional help with navigating your condition. If you are experiencing persistent or severe symptoms of stress or anxiety, it is important to seek help from a skilled mental health professional such as a counsellor or psychologist – talk to your doctor for more information.
Music therapy has been used for decades to support individuals with a wide range of mental health conditions, including dementia. Dementia is a progressive condition that affects memory, thinking, and behaviour. Interestingly, music therapy can help to improve cognitive function, emotional well-being, and quality of life in individuals with dementia. A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found that music therapy improved cognitive function and mood in individuals with moderate to severe dementia.7 Furthermore, music therapy has been shown to reduce agitation and behavioural symptoms in individuals with this condition.2
One reason music therapy is effective in supporting mental health is that it can evoke emotions and memories in a way that other forms of therapy cannot. Music can help individuals to access memories and emotions that may be difficult to express in words. In addition, music therapy can be tailored to individual preferences and needs, making it a highly personalised form of therapy.
Different types of music can have different effects on our memory. Classical music has been found to be effective in improving memory and cognitive function. A study found that listening to classical music can enhance spatial-temporal reasoning, which is a way of mentally imagining how things fit together and is crucial for problem-solving and decision-making. Examples of this include, using a map, merging into traffic while driving, and determining how many objects can fit into a given space. 8 Other types of music, such as upbeat pop music or jazz, can also be effective at improving mood and focus, which can, in turn, improve memory performance.
Fun fact: music can serve as a mnemonic device, helping us to remember information by associating it with a particular song or melody. This technique, known as “musical mneumonics”, has been used for centuries to help people remember information.
Many people use the song “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” to remember the alphabet, while others use the rhyme “Thirty days hath September” to remember the number of days in each month.
Music has always been a source of comfort for people in times of both happiness and sadness. Whether it is the soothing melody of a lullaby, the beat of a rock song, or the harmony of classical music, music has the power to evoke emotions and provide relief in moments of distress. When we listen to music, our brains release endorphins, the natural feel-good chemicals that help reduce stress, anxiety, and pain. Music provides comfort to people by creating a sense of connection and community. Think of the time when you bonded with people over shared musical tastes and experiences, such as attending live concerts or festivals that can bring people from all walks of life together. Whether it is taking a long drive with our favourite playlist, dancing to our favourite tunes, or simply sitting in silence and listening to the sounds around us, music can help us disconnect from our worries and find peace and calm.
Sleep is essential for overall health and well-being. It helps to restore the body and mind, improve cognitive function, and boost the immune system. However, many people struggle with getting enough sleep, whether it's due to stress, anxiety, or other factors - find out some reasons why you might be feeling tired all the time. One simple and effective way to improve sleep quality is by listening to music.
Research has shown that listening to music before bedtime can help to improve sleep quality. A study found that listening to calming music before bed improved sleep quality and reduced the amount of time it took to fall asleep.9 Furthermore, individuals who listened to music had increased levels of melatonin, a hormone that helps to regulate sleep-wake cycles.
So, how does music help to improve sleep quality? One theory is that music can help to reduce stress and anxiety, which are common factors that can interfere with sleep. Calming music can slow down the heart rate, lower blood pressure, and relax the body, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.10
Furthermore, music can act as a distraction from racing thoughts and worries, helping to quiet the mind and promote relaxation. It can also create a pleasant and calming environment, which can be particularly helpful for individuals who struggle with sleep due to environmental factors such as noise or light.
When it comes to choosing the right music for sleep, it's important to opt for calming and relaxing music that is free from loud or jarring sounds. Classical music, instrumental music, and nature sounds are all good options for promoting relaxation and improving sleep quality.
Overall, music can have a beneficial effect on our lifestyle, mental health, and well-being particularly in reducing stress and anxiety. Whether we listen to our favourite songs, create playlists for different moods, or explore new genres, music can be a valuable tool for managing our emotions and improving our mental health, sleep quality, and improving memory.
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-Mental Health - Beyond Blue
-Mental Health - Black Dog Institute
-Mental Health Foundation
-Mental Health – Ministry of Health