How Music Supports Your Mental Well-Being

Have you ever listened to a song and immediately felt connected to its lyrics and melody? The tune relates to you in that moment, it matches your emotions and is there for you when maybe it feels like no one else is.

Bad breakup? Cue Adele’s “Someone Like You.” Need motivation at the gym? Blast Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” Music is everything and then some, and thus plays an important role in our lives. It holds our hands when we are anxious and holds our hearts when we are sad. It’s always there, through the good times and the bad, to offer support and comfort.

Music is a form of solitude, a form of intimacy and a form of guidance. In a way, music has the power to heal.

Now, we don’t mean heal in the sense that your doctor would prescribe bumping pop radio to heal a gash on your leg. We’re talking about healing the soul. As research shows, music can help explore and change your mood. You’ll find that certain songs and genres allow you to sit with your emotions, explore them and understand them, but not feel worse from doing so; it’s catharsis.

When we stop and think about it, it seems that we spend most of our time surrounded by music. Whether it’s playing over the speakers at the grocery store or it’s the background noise when studying, the loud beats pumping out of a bar or even a curated workout playlist, everyone consumes music one way or another.

Leonid Perlovsky, a visiting scholar at Harvard University, suggests that the link between music and emotions dates back to prehistoric times. He said that at some point in our evolution, “proto-humans experienced a split in vocalizations, creating one type that was more semantic, and another that had a lot more emotional connections. The former evolved into language, while the latter evolved into music.” With that, music played a role in developing a more sophisticated emotionality, representing a powerful communication system just as important as modern language.

But music does more than just give you the feels. Research has shown that its mood changing capabilities is actually scientific. A study from Nature Neuroscience out of McGill University in Montreal found that at peak enjoyment, music releases a chemical in the brain called dopamine that has a key role in setting good moods. Dopamine is known to produce a “feel-good” state in response to certain tangible stimulants, such as eating sweets, but this was the first time that dopamine had been tested in response to something intangible, like music.

With the release of dopamine, music sends signals to the brain to aid in the expression of emotions, manage stress, enhance memory, improve communication, and also increase sleep quality.

And once we are aware of how music affects us, we can start to intentionally select it to better support our mental well-being in an act of self-love. Being aware of your music choice and selecting specific songs or playlists that suit your mood can be more beneficial than shuffling one’s entire library.

Whether it’s classical or R&B, Lady Gaga, or Harry Styles, techno beats or twangy guitar riffs, music can create a positive shift in your mood. It’s about finding a connection to a song, riding out the emotions of it and feeling better once you get to the other side. Music is powerful and personal, so it can be comforting to hear an artist express emotions that reflect how you feel or what you’re thinking.

For many people, musical interests are strongly tied to their sense of identity and looking inward to confide in the musical make-up of one’s self can be the strongest form of self-care.

Don’t forget to show your support by participating in Bell Let’s Talk Day, an annual initiative to help end the stigma surrounding mental illness. You can take part in Bell Let’s Talk Day today—send a text message or make a mobile or long distance call using Bell Media products, tweet with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk, watch and share the #BellLetsTalk Facebook video, use the Facebook image frame or the Snapchat Bell Let’s Talk geofilter. Each time you do this, Bell will donate 5¢ to Canadian mental health initiatives.