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Can Music Really Cure Your Depression? Here's What Science Says

Still from 'Dear Comrade' which used music therapy to battle mental health disorders.

Still from 'Dear Comrade' which used music therapy to battle mental health disorders.

Bach may never replace Prozac, but when it comes to depression, even a little help strikes a welcome chord.

Can listening to music when you’re feeling sad make enough of a difference — to the point where it makes you feel better?

As the pandemic continues to rage and trigger fear, anguish and loneliness, could music help us fight these negative emotions? A group of researchers has shown that some aspects of music could help us detox emotionally as the holiday season approaches.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, some people tend to get overwhelmed by negative emotions. Especially this year, with the troubling health crisis dominating news and preoccupations and a holiday season marked by social distancing and celebrations with limited numbers of friends and family. With so many questions about our near future and so few clear answers, how can we manage not to sink into toxic thinking? The answer is simple: try an emotional detox. “Emotional detox consists in regulating emotions that are toxic to us. Science has demonstrated that negative emotions take us over can harm our mental balance as well as our physiology," said Sean Luzi, wellness consultant for music streaming platform Qobuz.

Though it may seem surprising, music can help us to sort out the feelings that are detrimental to our physical and mental well-being from those that can be beneficial to us in this climate of anxiety. “Recent studies have highlighted the fact that music has an anti-stress power, which can be particularly useful in regulating toxic emotions. Music has a very profound effect on our nervous and neuroendocrine systems," says the expert.

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It is however worth wondering whether songs by Rihanna, The Rolling Stones and Paul Anka have the same beneficial effects on our health, while we work on perfecting our end-of-year playlists. A team of researchers from Berkeley studied this phenomenon. They analyzed the emotional reactions of 2,500 participants in the USA and China while listening to music samples comprising hit song “The Shape of You" by Ed Sheeran as well as the “Jaws” soundtrack. They discovered that listening to music triggers 13 different emotional states. They referred to some of these emotions using those terms: amusing, annoying, energizing, erotic, indignant, goose bumps and triumphant.

While the positive effects of listening to music may be undeniable, listening to music has to be done in certain conditions to reap the most benefits. Many people are used to listening to their favorite artists to kill time while commuting or eating, or working from home. According to Sean Luzi, these habits won’t help you fight toxic emotions. “Background music has some properties, but it is worth trying to favor mindful listening moments. It is fairly easy to take music breaks of between 10 and 20 minutes, during which time you dedicate yourself fully to listening to an album or a playlist. Music stimulates our brains more during these dedicated sessions," says Luzi.

He also advises to set up “decompression rituals" after a long day of work, in order to clearly separate the professional and the private spheres. We can also set up a cozy atmosphere in our home through furniture and lighting but also with musical elements and our listening space. While jazz and classical music are known to encourage calm, other musical genres can become emotionally therapeutic if they are linked to positive memories. “Music is correlated to emotional states. It is therefore not surprising that certain musical pieces remind us of happy moments in our lives more than others," said Sean Luzi. He added that sharing music with our loved ones allows us to reinforce the soothing aspect of music.

At a time of the year when many web users post their music retrospective of the year on social media, don’t be ashamed of the songs you loved as a teen that you still make you feel good. They may be your best allies during your upcoming emotional detox.

A Harvard research study that dissected the relationship between music and mental health notes that an authoritative review of research performed between 1994 and 1999 reported that in four trials, music therapy reduced symptoms of depression, while a fifth study found no benefit. A 2006 study of 60 adults with chronic pain found that music was able to reduce pain, depression, and disability. And a 2009 meta-analysis found that music-assisted relaxation can improve the quality of sleep in patients with sleep disorders.

Bach may never replace Prozac, but when it comes to depression, even a little help strikes a welcome chord.

When it comes to stress, something we’re all dealing with in times of pandemic, music can also significant reduce stress, found a 2015 study from New York.

(With inputs from AFP)

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