As the current covid-19 situation pushes us further into unchartered territory, many of us find ourselves spending long hours at home, either alone or with family. And while it’s critical we practice social distancing, it’s important to look after our mental health as much as possible too. One way to do this is to listen to music. Is there a song that instantly makes you happy – one that you just can’t help singing along to? Chances are it evokes positive memories or reminds you of someone special. As it turns out, listening to music is scientifically proven to affect the brain and lift our mood, making it a great tool to help combat coronavirus anxiety. Here’s how…
The Happy Hormone
A 2019 study found that music encourages the release of dopamine in the synapses of the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in our cognitive, emotional and behavioural functioning. Known as the ‘happy hormone’, it helps create the feeling of pleasure. While we have long known that music improves mood, there’s increasing evidence that it can also contribute to mental and physical health.
Music for Stress Reduction
A study by McGill University, published in the March 2013 edition of ‘Trends in Cognitive Sciences’ found that music helped to considerably decrease a person’s stress levels. It also improved their immune system’s ability to function and considerably reduced anxiety for patients about to have surgery. “Every person responds to music differently,’” explains musical therapist Jessica Harris of the Irish Association of Creative Arts Therapists. “Certain types of music can evoke memories and have a physiological effect; lowering the heart rate and therefore reducing stress.” Jessica sees the positive effects of music in her work all the time. “The benefits can impact someone’s life on every level – social, emotional, spiritual and physical,” she says. As a therapist, she treats people with a variety of mental health issues, including autism and depression.
Support for the Elderly
Since the older generation is especially vulnerable when it comes to coronavirus, it’s important we support them through their periods of self-isolation. Music is great way for them to relax and pass time. In fact, it’s even been linked to an improvement in patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia. This is because key areas of the brain remain preserved despite the presence of Alzheimer’s, and these can be activated by music. It therefore generally reduces stress, anxiety and agitation in people with the condition. “Some of the benefits for Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers include improvements that affect their quality of life”, says Jessica. “These could be through music’s social impact, stress-reducing qualities, or what’s known is the ‘quickening’ effect, which is a return to aspects of self-actualisation, identity and cognition.
So whether you’re living alone, with young family or elderly parents, why not play some music to help everyone relax? Kids will love singing along, while grown-ups may find it helps them connect and ease anxiety about coronavirus.