Get out of your head and into the music

March 18, 2021 | Health, Campus Life
If you’re struggling to find the motivation to carry you through the end of the term, it might be time for some musical intervention, says Annelise Lyseng. “Because music affects the way that we think and feel, we can harness it to feel better and take care of ourselves.”

The counsellor at MacEwan University teamed up with Tadiwa Nemutambwe, a fourth-year psychology student and Peer Health Education Team member, earlier this semester to deliver “Get Out of Your Head and Into the Music,” a webinar now available on the Wellness and Psychological Services video streaming channel.

Here are three things Lyseng and Nemutambwe think you should know about how music can influence – and improve – your mood.

1. Music changes your brain for the better

“Listening to music triggers the selective activation of a variety of brain structures, and releases neurochemicals that improve brain function and mental health,” says Lyseng.

She explains that not only does listening to music we like increase dopamine (a chemical associated with pleasure and the brain’s “reward centres”), serotonin (a hormone related to immunity and mood regulation) and oxytocin (a chemical that fosters our ability to connect with others), it also decreases stress hormones like cortisol, which can lead to improved attention and a reduction in pain.

2. Choose your jam carefully

When it comes to finding the right musical fit, one size does not fit all.

“Music can influence your mood, and can improve it, if you are selective about the music you choose,” says Lyseng. “Musical opinions and preferences are so personal – what is pleasurable and brings about a sense of relaxation or comfort for one person might be really jarring and unpleasant for another.”

While music clearly offers a wealth of benefits, there are also a few more caveats about what to listen to and when.

You’re probably not going to enjoy the stress-relieving benefits of calming music if you listen while doom scrolling on your phone, says Nemutambwe. Rumination (repetitive sad or dark thoughts) are a risk if you opt for sad music when you’re feeling low. And when you’re trying to focus, listening to music with lyrics can throw you off your game. Nemutambwe suggests opting for instrumental tracks instead (Lyseng’s current favourite is instrumental Disney movie soundtracks).

Bottom line? Choose the right music for the job.

“It’s less helpful to make sweeping generalizations about the music you should be listening to and more helpful for you to tune into what’s happening physically for you when you hear a piece of music,” says Nemutambwe.

Is your heart slowing down? Speeding up? Do you feel jittery? Drowsy? Light? Heavy? Nostalgic? “Tune in, and listen with intention so that you can build your own playlists,” she suggests. Or look to YouTube for free tracks designed for relaxing, studying and focusing.


3. Sing like nobody’s listening

Whether it’s in the shower or as part of an online choir, singing is a portable and cost-free way to give your brain a workout and amplify your wellness, according to the Global Council on Brain Health.

“Singing stimulates the vagus nerve to help you recover from stress more effectively, and can enhance bonding and cooperation with others,” explains Nemutambwe.

Research looking at seniors who participated in a singing group, she adds, showed that they experienced increased joy, hope, physical health, decreased rates of depression, decreased isolation, and a greater sense of connection with others.

Looking for more ways to add music to your mental health toolbox? Check out the full webinar for more tips and a list of references and resources.


How movies can improve your mental wellness

Lyseng and Nemutambwe team up again to share their tips for making the most of your movie-watching experiences over the winter break.

When it comes to your mental health, you don’t have to go solo

Three reasons group counselling might be the right choice for you – and three groups set to run this semester.



Changing Minds Footer Image - 3 DotsThis story is part of Changing Minds: Creating a healthy campus – an initiative that makes mental health a priority. The program connects training opportunities, support services, resources and stories from real people across the MacEwan University community.

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