Whether it’s a nap or a bubble bath, downtime means something different for everyone. For me, the Spotify pages of my favorite artists are my comfort place. There is nothing better than plugging in a pair of earphones and shuffling a playlist of familiar tunes after a busy day. Music is an inseparable aspect of human life, and studies show that it may be for the better.

Music is an architectonic form of emotional expression. It is powerful, capable of evoking a variety of emotions, memories, and feelings within minutes. These feelings flow not only from the artist, but to those listening to their work. Turns out, there is a neurological explanation as to why music improves our mood and increases our feeling of well-being. When we listen to music, we receive a boost of dopamine and oxytocin that is comparable with the pleasure we feel when we fall in love, eat our favorite foods, or finish a workout. Music is intricately tied to our deepest brain reward systems. Music can even reawaken previous memories of fun and joy, whether that be at Sunday service or a raging nightclub.

In fact, there is a growing field of healthcare known as music therapy. Music therapy is used to help those struggling with mental health disorders. Regular exposure to different forms of music can be used to light up circuitry linked to regulation of bodily functions. Music engages our limbic system, altering our heart rate variability and lowering blood pressure and stress.

A 2020 AARP Music and Brain Health Survey found that listening to music— even if it was played in the background— had a positive impact on mental well-being, depression, and anxiety. The brain is a highly dynamic organ that adapts to different exposures imposed by the environment. Music has proven to be a powerful stimulus for brain plasticity, enforcing and reinforcing positive emotions in their listeners.

In a time where many of us are stressed and isolated, music can be the solution to a better mental health. Here are some things to do to incorporate music therapy into your life.

  1. Partake in active listening.

Listen to your favorite songs, classical music, or even recordings of white noise. Concentrate on what you hear and ask yourselves the following questions: What is happening in the moment? What is the artist trying to communicate? What kind of feelings arise as you listen? Can you connect to the artist beyond the song’s lyrics? Can you find similarities in the other pieces created by the artist?

2. Go dancing! Dancing combines music and exercise together which should, logically, double the amount of dopamine.

Blast 90’s dance hits. As you shake and dance to the beat of a song, your brain will release an abundance of mood-boosting chemicals to your body. If you’re feeling bold, register in a local dance class or take a YTT course to become a certified yoga teacher.

3. Try playing or creating music of your own!

Einstein used music to solve his problems. “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician,” he claimed. “I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” He was an accomplished violinist and used his musical prowess to further his scientific discoveries. Learn a new instrument at a local conservatory or make some beats on your laptop using GarageBand!

Music is an art form accessible to anyone. It is simultaneously calming and evocative, assuaging our day-to-day stresses one melody at a time. Songs provide the opportunity for listeners to connect with other and feel their emotions in a more meaningful way. Music is one way to beat the Winter Blues this upcoming holiday season.

Guest Blogger: Celine Jeun, MHA Intern

Celine is a recent graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy who is on a gap year. She is an intern at MHA and a trained crisis worker at ContactLifeline. She aims to reduce the stigma around depression, addiction, and other mental illnesses. You can find her baking an olive oil cake, going on a sunset run, cuddling her two cats, or listening to Lorde.