You must know that feeling when you’re driving along and a song you used to play in college comes on the radio: Suddenly all of your cares are gone and you’re truly in the moment as you sing along, knowing every single word. Music is probably one of the most under-estimated methods that you can use to change your mood and feel happier and healthier instantly. To celebrate Global Wellness Day, we have decided to take a closer look at how music can significantly boost health and wellbeing.
By music therapist Dr Stella Compton Dickinson
Music and exercise to reduce anxiety: Whether music is played on a hospital ward, in a Zumba class, a Pilates class, a religious ceremony, or a military cavalcade with men and horses – music underpins the movements and pace of events through the tempo, rhythms, mood and harmonies.
Running and exercise releases endorphins that are known as ‘happy’ hormones. A play list of suitable tracks can energize and then calm people, for example during physical exercise classes followed by relaxation and meditative music to finish. A wonderful feeling of wellbeing and a sense that all right with the world flows through them and it’s one of the most healthy coping mechanisms you can use.
I always encourage my clients to develop a varied exercise routine because using our bodies can calm our minds, improve co-ordination and balance and reduce the symptoms of anxiety. Without physical activity one’s thoughts and worried feelings may get caught up and these can start to fester inside us. These experiences need an appropriate outlet or otherwise they can make one feel sick or wobbly.
Anxiety is often why people avoid social events
Often this sort of mental difficulty of anxiously avoiding difficult social events for example, can be misunderstood. This sort of anxiety is in fact unprocessed energy, which can be expended in music therapy because clients move about the room to play drums or tuned percussion or smaller instruments, rather than just sitting in a chair. Moving and being creative can help people to extend themselves and to be more spontaneous in having fun, and then they frequently want to start to improve their well-being and understand themselves better.
Music can help those with Parkinsons
Music Therapy is used to help people who suffer with Parkinson Disease. Try singing a gentle tune if you need to help a person with Parkinson’s to walk. The chances are that their shuffling gait may extend towards becoming proper steps if you find a suitable mood, tempo and tune.
Learning a musical instrument for global mental improvements: Practising a musical instrument is associated with enhanced verbal ability, the ability to work things out and improved motor co-ordination. This is because a lot of components and hours of discipline are involved in becoming accomplished on an instrument. The degree of success depends on many factors including the teaching techniques, the levels of parental support for the child, or for an adult learner to have both a witness to his efforts as well as undisturbed practice time. I have taught my instrument, the oboe, all my adult life and I apply some neuro-scientific therapeutic principles to this teaching.
“Let me tell you the story of Irvine (not his real name). Irvine was eleven and had just scraped into the school where I taught. He had tried the drums at primary school and this had done nothing for him. A child needs to find the right quality of tone in choosing his instrument. Irvine was an unusual and sensitive child, he didn’t seem to have a sense of rhythm, and so I worked to instil a steady pace demonstrating firstly so that he could copy me. As a music therapist I knew how to find his inner rhythm and pace. Even when he had learnt only two notes we could play a duet together as I created harmony around his two long notes. So, he learnt to read music whilst feeling safe and supported, at the same time as blowing and moving his fingers. There is a lot to think about. By the end of his first year he had moved academically from the bottom of the lowest set of kids in his year into the top set. Individual instrumental lessons gave him the confidence he needed to be better co-ordinated physically, with improved attention span and greater ability of mental processing and overall wellbeing.”
Music to promote memory and life review: Pre-recorded music has associations to times and places in our lives. If we hear a song from a different time in our life it can bring back all those old feelings. It may be very romantic, sad, happy or funny. Music can make us feel nostalgic and it can therefore make us laugh or cry, feel warm and loving or uncomfortable and full of regret.
When working with elderly people, if they hear a favourite old song this can bring back happier times and they can then often recall the lyrics which may not have been thought about in ages – then the individual can enjoy sharing their memories. This is important in helping the individual to have a sense of wellbeing as well as continuity across their life-span and then to orientate them to all that they have done decade by decade.
Musical Improvisation in music therapy for improving and sustaining mental health: Music Therapy is particularly effective for people who live with schizophrenia; it helps with mental organisation because music alone can cross the bridge between the two hemispheres of the brain, thereby integrating emotional responses and cognitive thinking processing. Once a person has expressed their inner feelings non-verbally through jointly-creating music within a trusting therapeutic relationship –then they may be able to more easily recognise what they are feeling and start to find the right words to be able to talk about their problems and thereby receive help from others.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Stella Compton-Dickinson is a London-based Health and Care Profession council registered music therapist, accredited supervisor, professional oboist and lecturer, UK Council for Psychotherapy registered Cognitive Analytic Therapist and Supervisor. She is author of The Clinician’s Guide to Forensic Music Therapy (Jessica Kingsley Publishers), and has her own private practice and twenty years’ experience in the National Health Service as a Clinician, Head of Arts Therapies and Clinical Research Lead her research was awarded the 2016 Ruskin Medal for the most impactful doctoral research.
Did you enjoy this? Here’s a best-selling author’s guide to feel happier and five ways to stay positive when you’re down. Are you getting your five portions of joy a day? And here’s how to eat your way to wellbeing. And for more health, beauty and wellness advice – visit our friends over at Positive Health Wellness.