February 7, 2024

The Benefits of Music for Mental Health

By Zachariah Seifert
Identity Development
Mental Health & Wellbeing

My grandfather was a school administrator for much of his life; he loved his work, and from countless personal memories that I have, had so many wonderful stories about his time serving his community and educating kids. However, the two things I remember most about my grandfather do not include his time as an educator; I remember his infectious laugh and his absolute obsession with music. I loved his laugh, a laugh that I often heard accompanying interaction with music. My grandfather started a quartet with his siblings, sang bass, and even recorded a few albums. He supported the school with his skills by directing and conducting the marching band and served for much of his life as the worship leader at his local church. For holidays, he would bring out the accordion and play classic Christmas songs with a twist for the family. Anything he could participate in music-related was his absolute joy, and he took every opportunity to do so. This included time with me; some of the best memories of my childhood and so much joy were added to my home.

The time I had with my Grandfather taught me so many lessons about life and the benefits of music. I had no idea how applicable these experiences would be to my clinical practice. Invaluable memories that have impacted how I view myself and others. With time, I realized the benefits that music can have on so many clinical areas such as grief and loss, mood regulation, emotion identification and expression, and the provision of helpful coping strategies, to name a few. Through the loss of my Grandfather, I was able to continue the tradition of using music to heal, remember, mourn, and enjoy the best that life has to offer. The impact of music on emotions (not only the positive ones), the grounding ability of music and song, the natural transition of musical breathing with diaphragmatic deep breathing techniques in mental health practices are all powerful lessons that have been extremely useful both personally and professionally. I can never thank my family enough for the memories and lessons that my childhood provided me.

Music has many benefits long-term and day-to-day. Below, I am going to explore a couple of the more important takeaways from my experiences, the research on music and its impact on health, and observations of what I have found helpful in supporting others.

Quality of Life Improvements

Multiple studies (including studies from Harvard Medical School) have shown that music (singing, playing, listening) and music therapy can create mental and physical health improvements over the lifespan. Music has been identified to support sleep, provide cognitive improvements (task efficiency, processing, and memory), can support finding motivation to participate (competition, teamwork, exercise), connecting to others, encouragement, and expression. Music is also known to decrease mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression or even aid in pain reduction in intensive treatments for cancer or other diseases. There is a healing quality to music that can be found through experimentation and exploration of what music means to you.

Developing Helpful Coping Strategies

Music can also be used as a coping strategy for life circumstances. We deal with a lot day-to-day; add any kind of romantic, child, family/extended family, friendship, work, etc. stressor, and life can feel hard to manage. At times, it can all feel like it is unraveling too fast to catch up with. We need coping strategies to support stress reduction and to handle the challenges that life throws at us. Music is a great way to start implementing some of these strategies. Using music to engage in breathing techniques, rhythmic grounding to support reliability and safety through repetitive rhythms, auditory grounding through sounds created personally or in your environment, relaxation, and distraction through alternative activities (making/playing, listening) is extremely useful. If you sing or play an instrument, it can be extremely cathartic to create; to put the emotions you may be experiencing into beats, melodies, or lyrics that express the feelings you have. Creating or covering music you love can give agency for growth and support to take back control and increase confidence. Music provides such an amazing opportunity to cope and an outlet for so many situations, I would encourage you to explore what may work for you.

Sorting Through Emotions to find Feeling Language

Music has the capacity to support the identification and expression of complex feelings and their emotions. Music helps to sort out relevant explanations and feeling language for emotions that sometimes are hard to identify with words. Emotions often trigger both psychological and physiological responses; we experience their impacts. Feelings are the explanations of how we “feel” based on our emotional responses. Emotions may trigger a range of feelings, and we must sort through them to find the true sense of our experience. Feelings are conscious representations or sensations from the experience of emotions. Feelings help us to translate and express emotions that can provide a real challenge to dissect. Ultimately supporting us in making sense of what we are experiencing from moment to moment. Music is a great way to support the identification and expression of these complex experiences when words fall short. This is a skill that is useful to develop but can be a challenge due to its lack of focus growing up; it is even normal to struggle identifying your feelings as an adult. Practice is crucial for finding growth and music can facilitate more relevant practice.

My grandfather left a lasting impression on my life, something I will hopefully never forget. The memories that I have of him not only enrich my life but have been so useful in my clinical work, and I am so thankful for who my Grandfather is to me. I hope to one day pass the lessons I have learned from him down to my children and grandchildren.

Try It Out

For the reader, I would encourage you to dive into music and dissect how you feel related to the considerations of where your life is now. Begin taking opportunities to express these things through music, to yourself in the mirror, or trusted people in your circle. You could try making a playlist of songs to have available in a difficult situation or a specific song that connects you to a peaceful memory. Maybe a consistent and reliable rhythm, to ground yourself in a moment and engage your attention to set yourself up to handle whatever challenge you may be walking into would be beneficial. Once you get more and more comfortable with this, try branching out and looking for new ways to connect with yourself and others through music. Whatever you choose, I would encourage you to start now. Explore and engage in music related to your experience; it is an incredible gift that I was given, and I hope you find it as well.

If this resonates with you or if you want support establishing a healthier emotional relationship with yourself and others, schedule an appointment today! I would love to support your journey.

Written By

Zachariah Seifert

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