Music for Mental Health

By: Jen McWaters, Psy.D. | July 5, 2019

Music is an integral part of our culture, history, and daily lives. It provides the backdrop to our favorite movies, our significant life events, and our most vivid memories. Hearing a song can nostalgically bring you back to the first time you heard it and who you were with. It can also evoke painful emotions and memories of times you’d rather forget.

You have likely used music in your daily life to provide motivation, distraction, or comfort. In a typical day we might listen on our way to work, while we grocery shop, and then while we are having dinner or doing the dishes. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that researchers have found that music can profoundly impact our brains, mood, and performance in significant ways.

Here are three simple ways to reap the psychological benefits of music:

1. Use music to get more done

Researchers studying the impact of music tempo on people exercising found that speeding up the music tempo made them work harder and faster, and led them to enjoy the music more as well (Waterhouse, Hudson, & Edwards, 2010). Try turning on some upbeat music to motivate you through a difficult or unpleasant task, such as working out, cleaning, or organizing.

2. Use music to boost your mood or manage stress

Studies have found that certain types of music can positively impact our mood. For example, relaxing music can decrease our anxiety and help those struggling with challenges such as pain, dementia, or depression. But, not all music is beneficial. Classical or meditative music tends to work best, while heavy metal or techno music could lead to detrimental effects (Trappe, 2009). The next time you are noticing feelings of stress or anxiety, try turning on some relaxing music, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. Keep your mind focused on your breathing and the music and watch your stress start to dissipate.

3. Use music to practice mindfulness

By now you have likely heard about all of the touted benefits of practicing mindfulness, such as helping with pain and stress management, as well as improving focus, concentration, and mood regulation. Listening to music can be a great and simple way to practice mindful awareness. Try listening to a song with clear instrumentation and clear vocals. (Songs by Adele tend to work pretty well). Now, listen to the song all the way through trying to only pay attention to the lyrics and vocals. See what you notice and if you hear lyrics or feel emotions that you haven’t previously. Now, listen through the song again and try to focus only on the instrumentation. You will likely hear parts and sounds you’ve never noticed before! This is a great exercise to help focus the mind and shift it away from unhelpful thinking, so give it a try!

Music is an important part of how we experience our world, express ourselves, and process our emotions. Music can inspire or soothe us, but is also powerful enough to stir up anger or anxiety. Over this week, notice how the music you listen to changes your mood, impacts your energy and motivation, and affects your overall sense of well-being.


Trappe, H. (2009). Music and health-what kind of music is helpful for whom? What music not? Dtsch Med Wochenschr.134(51-52): E3. pp2601-6. doi: 10.1055/s-0029-1243066.
Waterhouse, J., Hudson, P., & Edwards, B. (2010). Effects of music tempo upon submaximal cycling performance. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science Sports, 20(4), pp662-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2009.00948.x.


Image: Dennis Skley on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

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