If You’re Happy And You Know It:
How listening to music improves mental well-being
By Bev Bennett, CTW Features
You may be listening to music as you read this feature, or maybe you’re planning to download a new song selection you’re excited about. Whatever the tune, you may benefit in more ways than you expect.
Music can alleviate anxiety if you’re undergoing a medical procedure, reduce everyday stress and lighten a dark mood.
Even people who are clinically depressed may be able to improve their mood by listening to their preferred music, according to Brenna Beecroft, hospice music therapist, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
What’s really appealing is that you don’t have to limit yourself to a particular type of music. You can stick with your favorite tunes or choose different genres of music for different situations.
Music is also used by Alice Cash, Ph.D., to divert peoples’ attention elsewhere.
“My biggest focus is music during medical procedures to reduce pain and anxiety,” says the licensed clinical social worker and clinical musicologist, www.healingmusicenterprises.com.
Again, music takes your mind away from the source of stress or discomfort.
“When you’re waiting for a drill or needle, music helps your body release endorphins, a positive distraction. Your body has an ‘everything is going to be OK’ feeling,” says Cash, Healing Music Enterprises, Louisville, Kentucky.
She recommends music appropriate to your needs.
When you’re anxious and want to be comforted, try familiar music that has welcome associations. When you’re keyed up and need calming, Cash recommends classical music or slower jazz.
In her music therapy work, Beecroft makes a distinction between comforting and relaxing music.
Listening to the Beach Boys, for example, may be comforting because you have an emotional connection to the music. However, you may also want music that relaxes you with about 60 to 70 beats per minute, the same as your resting heart rate.
Pieces for strings and some for piano may provide the combination of pleasant and relaxing qualities, according to Beecroft.
Also, look for music that creates predictability.
“Slow, no sudden changes in volume or speed. It doesn’t jar your attention,” Beecroft says.
Whether you want music with lyrics or not may depend on your needs.
“If you’re trying to incorporate other relaxing techniques, stay away from lyrics, which can be distracting,” she says.
“But, if you’re in the dentist’s chair, play a song you’re familiar with and sing along in your mind,” says Beecroft, author of “Music Listening for Relaxation” (Music 4 Life Music Therapy Services, 2011).