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Music for Mental Health

Cathy Murphy

When you need to focus on a project, must tackle a long to-do list of boring tasks, or just have had a hard day, you might crank up the sounds of whatever music inspires you.

Music is a natural mood booster, and research now confirms that music not only influences our moods, but can reduce the negative effects of stress, while helping us focus and manage our emotions.

Listening to music actually changes the way your brain functions. If you’ve ever felt chills while listening to music (and research shows that about 90 percent of us have) then you have experienced this. Music stimulates an ancient reward pathway in the brain, encouraging dopamine to flood part of the forebrain associated with motivation.

Music can help you regulate your mood and improve your mental wellness by:

Reducing the body’s response to stress;

Relieving symptoms of depression;

Relieving anxiety;

Improving cognition;

Improving sleep;

Increasing intensity and endurance of workouts.

It’s important to pick out the right music for the right purpose. If you’re feeling down, try to think about what music inspires you. If your thoughts are racing, calming music may help.

Likewise, classical music or instrumentals have been shown to increase people’s ability to focus while working on a difficult task; conversely, putting on exciting music might make cleaning the kitchen more enjoyable and the last few minutes on the treadmill more bearable.

But beware: since music can bring up strong emotions and remind you of certain people or memories, try to avoid music that evokes sad feelings or makes you think of upsetting things. Making playlists ahead of time for different moods is a great way to make sure you always have the right mood-fixer at the tip of your fingers.

If you feel like you might need more support, try taking a free online screening at http://screening.mentalhealthscreening.org/SUMMIT to see if you have symptoms of a common and treatable mental health disorder. After the screening, you’ll be connected to local resources.

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