Music has been a feature of human existence since we began singing in prehistoric times and has always played a central role in our cultural and spiritual lives.
Given how elemental it’s always been to our experience, it’s no surprise music can boost our mood, lower anxiety and improve our brain’s function along multiple tracks.
Improved mental health-related quality of life
A meta-analysis of 26 studies published in March by the Journal of American Medical Association’s JAMA Open Network found the 779 participants in 13 countries, with a mean age of 60, on average reported improved well-being after music therapy sessions, singing or hearing music.
They responded to two surveys, one with 12 questions and the other with 36 queries about their health, energy levels, emotions and whether they were an impediment to being active.
Its benefits were rated to be within the same range as such lifestyle-based interventions as exercise, as well as some pharmaceutical treatments.
Relief from depression
A 2020 meta-analysis looked at 55 studies related to both music therapy, which relies heavily on the relationship between the patient and therapist, and music medicine, in which patients are exposed to music in a more clinical environment where the patient’s relationship to the health care provider isn’t a component of the treatment.
Both were shown to have benefits, but music medicine was found to have more success in reducing symptoms of depression — possibly because it was not used for those with serious mental illness in any of the research.
Recreative music therapy, in which patients sing or play along with prerecorded music to meet specific goals, was the most effective method.
Calming from anxiety
Research published in 2021 in the online journal Brain Sciences analyzed the effects listening to music has on people’s emotions in two environments, at home and in a lab setting.
Each participant listened to one song of their own choice and another in a lab setting and wrote about their emotional state. They also gave a saliva sample for measurement of the stress-related hormone cortisol.
The subjects had lower baseline cortisol levels while at home and reported a larger reduction in anxiety while listening to the music at home, but the reduction in cortisol levels was the same in each environment.
Sharpened focus while studying
Results of research in this field have been more mixed, with some experts concluding that listening to music doesn’t affect performance either way or that it can be distracting for many people.
Many do find a positive correlation, particularly with background instrumental music the listener doesn’t react strongly to.