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A healthier, happier wellbeing: the link between music and mental health

Every one of us likes to sit back, relax, and tap into our favourite playlists. Whether you utilise listening to music as a method of helping you concentrate while studying, or use it as a pleasurable escape from the menial tasks of your degree, it is undisputed that music plays an integral part in our everyday student lives.

But why is music so important to us? Are there proven links between listening to music and thriving mental health? At the beginning of the last decade, scientific evidence emerged that listening to the music you love makes your brain release more dopamine: the mood-enhancing chemical of the brain. No wonder why everyone walking around campus is engrossed in their earphones or AirPods: our brains are having a party.

But how can we utilise this feel-good mechanism of listening to music in our lives to help with everyday psychological wellbeing? Whilst it comes as no surprise and is certainly no scientific breakthrough, relaxation is key to how we can improve our mental health through music. Despite seeming obvious, some people are so proactive and busy with their daily routines, they fail to give themselves time to rest and unwind.

The impact of music on destressing and alleviating preoccupations was shown in a study which exposed participants to a stressor after being in one of three conditioned environments: listening to relaxing music, listening to the sound of rippling water, no auditory stimulation. Results indicated that listening to music had an effective impact on the human stress response, in terms of faster recovery. Accordingly, if your studies ever get too much, immerse yourself in your best-loved tunes: soon you may find yourself activated to confront the work once again.

Relaxation is key to how we can improve our mental health through music

On the flip side, though music provides a safe lyrical haven enabling you to escape for relaxation, another eminent power of music to improve your mental health is motivation. Sometimes there’s nothing better than hearing an upbeat melody to pump yourself up, ready to accomplish the foreseeable tasks of the day, whilst remaining vigilant for any curveballs. But for those who lack inspiration and confidence, especially with sport and exercise, music can have a direct impact on your motivation to succeed.

One study, based on exercise bikes, found that an increase in music tempo correlated with increased performance, whilst slowing the tempo had the converse effect. So, as you are relishing in the lyrical artistry of your favourite vocalist, you can simultaneously benefit cognitively and physically. Albeit, incorporating music with exercise is just one of the many ways you can translate music into motivation.

Leading well into my next advantage of music on the mind, we have the strengthened ability to focus. It can be very easy to feel depressed when the pile of assignments stacks up so high that you can’t see past it. Often leading to the dangerous temptation of
procrastination, you can then feel even worse when you discover hours have passed and nothing concrete has been achieved. Therefore, music can be a great asset for helping you channel your thoughts and worries into a methodical step-by-step guide of solving them.

Of course, this psychologically pragmatic approach seems easier said than done. But interestingly enough, a study in 2012 posed the question as to whether music during a lecture can help students learn better. The group of students who heard classical music during a lecture performed significantly better in a post-lecture MCQ test in comparison with the group who didn’t. For those intrigued, classical pieces with a tempo of 60 beats per minute are most renowned for allowing you to unlock your greatest potential for studying. Maybe the “Mozart effect” isn’t a myth after all…

Maybe the “Mozart effect” isn’t a myth after all…

Insomnia is yet another serious psychological problem heavily affecting many students across the UK. Despite many existing techniques for combatting the inability to sleep, research proves (once again) that listening to classical music can be an affordable and effective remedy. A study found that the group of participants who listened to relaxing classical music – rather than audiobooks or no intervention – gained significantly better sleep quality. This slight change in bedtime routine may give a helping hand to those affected by sleep depravity, enabling energy to restore for a rejuvenated approach to the next day.

Fundamentally, whilst we are aware of the positive outcome listening to music has on our mental health through the release of dopamine, it’s important to implement these subtle changes to maximise the health benefits. Our mid-term routines can deny us time to unwind; therefore, let music be the reason for the break. Like daily routines, such as brushing teeth or eating lunch, a musical digression from everyday life can construct a happier and healthier wellbeing.

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