Soundtracks can be meaningful markers in our lives, defining our most memorable eras and helping us through hard times – and that’s certainly been the case for many during the pandemic.
More than a fifth (23%) of people say music has been the biggest support to their mental health during the lockdowns, according to global music discovery service DICE and Populous, who recently surveyed 2,063 people.
It makes sense. We're firm fans of a morning bedroom boogie to start the day right, or a blast of your fave feelgood playlist to help shake off the blues.
When it comes to emotional and psychological wellbeing, music really does have a long list of benefits. Here are some evidence-backed examples…
1. It can bring back happy memories
We can’t always whisk ourselves away to sunnier, happier, more fun times – but a good song might ‘transport’ us there. Like scents can trigger memories and take us back to a specific moment in time, certain songs might do the same thing – putting us back on the dancefloor at a friend’s wedding, or maybe we’re 17 again and head-banging with our mates.
A 2019 study by Dr Kelly Jakubowski at Durham University looked at this very thing and found that for older people, the memories triggered by songs tended to be from when they were aged 10-30, and music first heard in our teenage years tended to trigger the most vivid memories.
2. Music can be therapeutic
Like art, drama and a whole host of creative outlets, music is used as a form of therapy – key examples include for people living with dementia, and children and adults with mental health or developmental needs.
We can all harness these benefits though, as music can be a powerful tool for boosting mood and possibly helping relieve stress and depression. A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology in 2013 found listening to upbeat music could bolster people's mood and happiness in two weeks.
3. Music can help us process emotions
There’s good reason many of us find solace in music when we’re going through a break-up or tough transition, whether it’s back-to-back heartbreak songs that always make us cry, or a pumping power track that brings us back to life. Music can help us process and express our emotions – a good cry can be a very health thing!
A 2016 study led by Durham University and the University of Jyvaskyla, Finland found listening to sad music can help us regulate our mood and bring a sense of comfort, relief and enjoyment.
4. Classical music can help us focus
Hands up if your concentration skills took a nosedive at certain point of the pandemic (unless we’re talking Netflix marathons, in which case, we suddenly had the focus of an Olympian). Struggling to concentrate obviously isn’t great news for getting tasks done – and then there’s the knock-on impact of stressing about it or having to work late to catch up.
Classical music can be helpful here, helping us filter out distractions and feel calm and focused. A 2007 Stanford University study found it could even help us absorb new information more easily too.
5. Music might help us cope with pain
Next time a nasty bout of pain strikes, try making your own pain-soothing playlist. A 2015 review in The Lancet, which looked at data from 73 different trials and more than 7000 patients, found people who listened to music before, during or after surgical procedures experienced lower rates of anxiety and pain during the postoperative period. Music therapy can be beneficial for people living with chronic pain too.
6. It gives us a sense of pleasure and reward
Music just feels good, doesn’t it? You probably don’t need scientific studies to tell you that – but researchers have measured it, and it’s fascinating. For example, research by Canada’s McGill University published in 2019 looked at how music stimulates the reward centre of the brain. Interestingly, they found the effects were stronger when music had an element of the unexpected.