Music May Be The Best Medicine For Your Mental Health

Music is the best Medicine

Music can change your mind, your mood and it may just save your life… “Music kept me from committing suicide as a kid.”

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What is the name of that song in your playlist… you know, the one that moves you? The right song will hold you, heal you and help you to get on your way.  Music is like medicine for your mental health.

Music Can Save Your Life

It was not uncommon for me to be curled under the covers, unable to do anything to care for myself. One morning I reached for my iPod and that was when things began to change.

Recently I had a dance with depression and it terrorized me.  The thick ooze of gloom and death shut down my ability to think. It was not uncommon for me to be curled under the covers, unable to do anything to care for myself. One morning I reached for my iPod and that was when things began to change.

In my fog, a song cut through and reached me. I repeated it again and again:

Losing hope, not sure what to believe… If you’re lost how can you grow from where you’ve been… It’s getting old loving everyone else, more than you love yourself… But if you never break, you’ll never know… It’s all you need to fight a blow… Now put yourself back together again… Burning bridges from the inside-out… One day I’ll be stronger than my own doubt

“Painted,” by MSMR

That song gave me the energy to get out of bed and today, I am well into my recovery. I credit MSMR for helping to change the conversation in my mind. Music is like a super-pill that will change your mind, your moods and maybe even save your life.

Five Reasons Why You Need to Take the Music Super-pill

FYI: References to individuals in this section come from consultations with my “panel” of music experts that include friends, family and Facebook contacts. 

  1. Music will make you feel more happy and more grateful. Hearing a song that feels groovy (or triggers a happy memory) will change your mood. Music is more powerful than words. It will marshal your entire brain. It will help you to remember, to make sense of your experience, and to feel better even if you don’t understand everything about your life. It is a multi-sensory experience with no side-effects (other than a few irritated neighbors).
  2. Music will aid where you need healing. One woman told me she listened to music when she was going through a devastating break up. Her music soothed her and soaked up her pain and her memories. Then as she recovered, she left those songs behind.

Painful events, trauma and everyday memories are stored in our minds (in words and stories), our emotions (in moods, images and feelings) and our physical bodies (in the soft tissues). If we decide to see a therapist, talk therapy can reach our mind and some of our emotions but often it takes deeper, physical work to get things moving. Music can be a powerful asset to healing because it will help us both communicate and cope.

Your playlist is your community of healing. You have hundreds, perhaps thousands of artists to support you.

Your playlist is your community of healing. You have hundreds, perhaps thousands of artists to support you.

Science confirms that music:

  • Releases dopamine in your brain, just like food, sex or drugs
  • Releases serotonin, helping to counteract depression or other moods that you may feel
  • Decreases cortisol, relieving your stressful feelings
  • Boosts your immune system, making you more resilient
  • Reduces your anxiety
  • Changes your perception of pain, making you less sensitive to it
  • Reconnects and draws upon other, more healthy parts of yourself
  1. Music will motivate you. Fitness instructors use music to motivate clients to push themselves harder and longer than they otherwise could. You can accomplish the same thing with your playlist. Think about your favorite five to ten songs. These songs tell the story of your current aspirations and dreams. A song can take you from where you are to where you want to be in three minutes flat. Nothing else can compare to that.
Why inject steroids? Instead, inject your playlist. Music has no side effects and it will motivate you to stick with changes that you cannot make on your own.

Music can also challenge you to grow up and be your better self. A friend told me that music saved his marriage. He was ready to leave his wife until he went to a concert featuring their favorite band. The music reminded him of better times and how they shared so many positive experiences. They are stronger today and music permeates their home every time I visit with them.

A man I heard from said that listening to just one song changed his direction in life. The song was Art and a Wife by Rah Rah. It reminded him of his dreams to be an artist and after listening to the song, he decided to quit his job and go back to school.

Why inject steroids? Instead, inject your playlist. Music has no side effects and it will motivate you to stick with changes that you cannot make on your own.

  1. Music will help you cope. Music can aid recovery from addiction, along with mental and physical illness. One person shared how music is essential to his recovery from addiction. A woman talked about how music helps her father, who is Bipolar. She said that music moves him like nothing else. Another woman credited Rush with saving her life, “The Pass kept me from committing suicide as a kid.”

If your mood is low, if you experience pain or if you are unable to focus, listening to music will harness an arsenal of coping skills:

  • Your imagination – Music is like a playground for your imagination. Songs will link with your memories and your experiences, and give you the chance to play out different decisions and options.
  • Your senses combine and will give you tools to supercharge your self talk. Music joins words with a fresh and creative rhythm, with playful images, and with lyrics that help imagine a new story.
  • Your inner language. Healthy people talk to themselves. Music will calm the inner chatter and allow your mind to focus on images and words that support you to be your better self.
  • Your motivation, or ‘flow’ – Music can move you by harnessing your thoughts, emotions, inner language and imagination to work together. This will help to rewire your brain, and you will become more healthy.
  1. Music will make you wise. Several people described how they have a lifetime playlist of songs. They think of the songs as markers of major life events and the songs will be played at their funeral (hopefully a long way off). The right music will access your long term thinking and will help you to be less reactive.

Your Prescription for Musical Medicine

Please take one (or more) and reply to me in the morning. 

  • Music meditation – For this one, you will need a quiet private space. Close your eyes, turn on your music (choose 2-3 songs), breathe normally and just let your mind follow the music.  Music is like mind-body mediation without the chanting.
  • Reflect on your music meditation – Use a journal to explore your experience with a music meditation. What memories came to mind while you were listening? What moods or emotions did the song bring up? What physical sensations did you feel? Did you feel like you were moving; where did you go? How did you feel before you listened to the song and then after? Did the song(s) change you or move you in any way?
  • Harness some music motivation – create what I call your Movelist of 10 songs that move you, motivate you or make you think about your dreams. Listen to 2-3 of these songs to start and end your day. To increase the power of the experience, try visualizing yourself into the music.
  • Create a Lifetime play list – It may feel overwhelming to make a lifetime list, so begin with your Movelist of ten songs. You can use songs from this list to slowly build your Lifetime Play List.
  • Move like you mean it – I can’t dance very well, but I can move. Moving to music will help you to move outside of your comfort. Close the door and dance.
  • Take it further – Get more information and practical ways to use music to support your mental health:
    i. 20 Surprising, Science-Backed Health Benefits of Music. This resource lists the benefits of music and the science to back it up. Readable and fun.ii. Music and Mental Health by Reach Out, an Australian Mental Health agency. The resource discusses how music will benefit your mental health and how you can capitalize on the many benefits.iii. Major Benefits of Music Uncovered by one of the preeminent Music and Mental Health researchers, Dr. Daniel J. Levitin. This one is more for the science geeks. Just sayin’iv. Join The Good Men Project and be part of the conversation that no one else is having.

Keep it Real and Groove like you mean it…

Photo by TheArchesWelcome to the Front Lines of Modern Manhood

About Sean Swaby

Sean is a writer in the areas of mental health and addiction, family, leadership, and anything that demonstrates the power of story. You can find him at smswaby.wordpress.com and on Facebook, here. In addition to being an Editor with the Good Men Project, Sean has been published with Babble, The Mighty, Be You Media Group and Addiction Unscripted.

Comments

  1. Fantastic article. Music help me get through my elementary and high school years plus I am discovering new songs on Youtube and internet to help me cope and motivate me. All of the songs that I collect are number 1 with me in my heart and soul even though many of them never made it to Billboard 100 or never got up to #1.

    • Thank you. You make a great point about the impact of music growing up and how it can be a huge asset to our development, identity and mental health as children. I like how you talk about the power of music is that it stays with you as you grown and change.
      Keep it Real!

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