addiction

The power of music: how it can benefit health

“I think music in itself is healing,” American musician Billy Joel once said. “It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” Most of us would wholeheartedly agree with this statement, and it is this universal bond with music that has led researchers across the globe to investigate its therapeutic potential.

musicWe can all think of at least one song that, when we hear it, triggers an emotional response. It might be a song that accompanied the first dance at your wedding, for example, or a song that reminds you of a difficult break-up or the loss of a loved one.

“We have a such a deep connection to music because it is ‘hardwired’ in our brains and bodies,” Barbara Else, senior advisor of policy and research at the American Music Therapy Association told Medical News Today. “The elements of music – rhythm, melody, etc. – are echoed in our physiology, functioning and being.”

Given the deep connection we have with music, it is perhaps unsurprising that numerous studies have shown it can benefit our mental health. A 2011 study by researchers from McGill University in Canada found that listening to music increases the amount of dopamine produced in the brain – a mood-enhancing chemical, making it a feasible treatment for depression.

And earlier this year, MNT reported on a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry that suggested listening to hip-hop music – particularly that from Kendrick Lamar – may help individuals to understand mental health disorders.

But increasingly, researchers are finding that the health benefits of music may go beyond mental health, and as a result, some health experts are calling for music therapy to be more widely incorporated into health care settings.

In this Spotlight, we take a closer look at some of the potential health benefits of music and look at whether, for some conditions, music could be used to improve – or even replace – current treatment strategies.

Reducing pain and anxiety

Bob Marley once sang: “One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” According to some studies, this statement may ring true.

Earlier this year, MNT reported on a study led by Brunel University in the UK that suggested music may reduce pain and anxiety for patients who have undergone surgery.

By analyzing 72 randomized controlled trials involving more than 7,000 patients who received surgery, researchers found those who were played music after their procedure reported feeling less pain and anxiety than those who did not listen to music, and they were also less likely to need pain medication.

This effect was even stronger for patients who got to choose the music they listened to. Talking to MNT, study leader Dr. Catharine Meads said:

If music was a drug, it would be marketable. […] Music is a noninvasive, safe, cheap intervention that should be available to everyone undergoing surgery.”

This study is just one of many hailing music for its effects against pain. In March 2014, researchers from Denmark found music may be beneficial for patients with fibromyalgia – a disorder that causes muscle and joint pain and fatigue.

Listening to calm, relaxing, self-chosen music “reduced pain and increased functional mobility significantly” among 22 patients with fibromyalgia, according to the investigators.

But why does music appear to ease pain? While the exact mechanisms remain unclear, many researchers believe one reason is because listening to music triggers the release of opioids in the brain, the body’s natural pain relievers.

Dr. Daniel Levitin, of McGill University in Canada, and colleagues talk about this theory in a 2013 review, citing research that found people experienced less pleasure from listening to their favorite song when given Naltrexone – a drug that blocks opioid signals – suggesting music induces the release of opioids to ease pain.

An effective stress reliever

When feeling stressed, you may find listening to your favorite music makes you feel better – and there are numerous studies that support this effect.

A study reported by MNT last month, for example, found that infants remained calmer for longer when they were played music rather than spoken to – even when speech involved baby talk.

The study researchers, including Prof. Isabelle Peretz of the Center for Research on Brain, Music and Language at the University of Montreal in Canada, suggested the repetitive pattern of the music the infants listened to reduced distress, possibly by promoting “entertainment” – the ability of the body’s internal rhythms to synchronize with external rhythms, pulses or beats.

musicAnother study conducted in 2013 found that not only did listening to music help reduce pain and anxiety for children at the UK’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, it helped reduce stress – independent of social factors.

According to some researchers, music may help alleviate stress by lowering the body’s cortisol levels – the hormone released in response to stress.

The review by Dr. Levitin and colleagues, however, suggests this stress-relieving effect is dependent on what type of music one listens to, with relaxing music found most likely to lower cortisol levels.

Another mechanism by which music may alleviate stress is the effect it has on brainstem-mediated measures, according to Dr. Levitin and colleagues, such as pulse, heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature; again, the effect is dependent on the type of music listened to.

“Stimulating music produces increases in cardiovascular measures, whereas relaxing music produces decreases,” they explain. “[…] These effects are largely mediated by tempo: slow music and musical pauses are associated with a decrease in heart rate, respiration and blood pressure, and faster music with increases in these parameters.”

Music’s effect on heart rate and its potential as a stress reliever has led a number of researchers to believe music may also be effective for treating heart conditions.

Earlier this year, MNT reported on a study presented at the British Cardiology Society Conference in Manchester, UK, in which researchers from the UK’s University of Oxford found repeated musical phrases may help control heart rate and reduce blood pressure – though they noted more research is required in this area.

Music and memory

Certain songs have the ability to remind us of certain periods or events in our lives – some that make us smile, and some we would rather forget.

With this in mind, researchers are increasingly investigating whether music may aid memory recall.

 

music heals

n 2013, a study published in the journal Memory & Cognition enrolled 60 adults who were learning Hungarian. The adults were randomized to one of three learning tasks: speaking unfamiliar Hungarian phrases, speaking the same phrases in a rhythmic fashion or singing the phrases.

When asked to recall the phrases, the researchers found participants who sang the phrases had much higher recall accuracy than the other two groups. “These results suggest that a ‘listen-and-sing’ learning method can facilitate verbatim memory for spoken foreign language phrases,” say the authors.

Evidence from such studies has led researchers to suggest music may help memory recall for people with cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

A study published in the journal Gerontologist last year assessed the effect of music on memory recall in individuals with early-stage dementia.

For the research, 89 people with dementia and their caregivers were randomly assigned to either a 10-week singing coaching group, a 10-week music listening coaching group or usual care.

The results revealed that both the singing and music listening groups not only had better mood and overall well-being that the usual care group, but they demonstrated better episodic memory on cognitive assessments. The singing group also showed better working memory than the usual care group.

“Regular musical leisure activities can have long-term cognitive, emotional, and social benefits in mild/moderate dementia and could therefore be utilized in dementia care and rehabilitation,” the authors concluded.

Music therapy should be utilized more in health care settings

Based on the substantial evidence that music offers numerous health benefits, many experts are calling for greater utilization of music therapy within health care settings.

“Music therapists are poised and ready to assess, deliver and document music therapy treatment but also to consult with our colleagues (physicians, nurses, physiotherapists physical, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, etc.) to support the patient as part of the interdisciplinary team and care of the patient,” Else told MNT.

In addition, Else believes that music therapy could offer an alternative treatment option for some conditions – such as tension headaches.

“A more complicated case example I can think of, although more rare, is for certain persons who experience seizure activity associated with music and auditory exposures – often high-frequency sounds and rhythmic intensity,” she said.

“Customized music therapy interventions to cope with the offending acoustic exposures can support stabilization of the patient’s symptoms and may, in turn, result in a medication reduction or taper,” she continued.

Based on the research to date, there is certainly evidence that we have much more than just an emotional connection with music. So the next time you put on your favorite track, have a little dance around safe in the knowledge that you are likely to be reaping some health benefits.

Music Therapy as an Effective Tool in Addiction Recovery

Grab a guitar or write a song — music therapy is proven to help you get and stay sober in addiction recovery.

Music Therapy

Music is a powerful medium that many of us rely on as a part of our day-to-day experiences. It is no surprise then that music therapy has taken the power of music and applied it in specific ways to facilitate healing and growth. While the benefits of music therapy are wide ranging, it can be a particularly useful tool to help people overcome addictions.

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is the use of music as a tool within a therapeutic relationship to help facilitate physical, emotional, cognitive, and social change and growth. Qualified music therapists design interventions that are based on an individual’s needs, which may include creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music.

Research supports music therapy as an effective method to help increase people’s motivation and engagement in treatment, provide emotional support, and provide an alternative outlet for expressing feelings. These benefits, along with many others, are what makes music therapy an effective tool to help people recover from addictions.

How can Music Therapy aid Addiction Recovery?

For addiction treatment to be most effective it should be holistic, which means it should address the biological, psychological, and social factors that have contributed to the disorder. Music therapy can provide an adjunct to other therapies traditionally used to treat addiction. By integrating music into therapy clients can experience a wide range of benefits that support their overall recovery, including the following:

Improves ability to recognise and accept different emotions.

When actively addicted to drugs, alcohol, or processes, people build up defence mechanisms such as rationalising, minimising, denying, and lying in order to continue their behaviour and hide from their emotions. The creative nature of music therapy contrasts these fixed ways of thinking and can help addicts break through their rigid thinking patterns.

Music also has a powerful impact on our emotional states and can provide indirect access to different emotions. Music therapy, especially listening to and discussing music and its lyrics, can help people safely explore emotions and identify a wider range of emotional states. Accessing emotions indirectly through music can provide a more comfortable starting point for discussing and accepting a variety of different feelings.

Promotes self-expression and self-awareness.

Self-expression often precedes self-awareness and both are necessary for entering long-term recovery. Making music, song writing, or choosing to listen to different songs can help clients express the emotions they are beginning to feel once they get sober, instead of trying to escape from these feelings through the use of drugs and alcohol.

Having a means of self-expression in turn helps develop self-awareness. This can lead clients to a better understanding about how the disease of addiction impacted their lives, and the choices they have in taking responsibility for their own recovery.

Increases self-esteem.

Low self-esteem is something many addicts struggle with long after they embrace sobriety. Finding ways to increase feelings of self-worth will significantly enhance a person’s recovery and help prevent relapse. There are many ways music therapy can accomplish this. One is by giving people an outlet to creating something they feel good about. Music can also contribute to feelings of connectedness with others, which lets us know we are not so different and alone.

Facilitates relaxation and stress reduction.

Stress can be a recovering addict’s worst enemy. Lack of stress management and coping skills is one reason people turn to drugs and alcohol in the first place, and why many people relapse. When people listen to music, it can help calm their nerves and de-stress, but the trick is finding music that is relaxing for you. Singing, writing, or learning to play music can also become a healthy hobby that you can use to keep your life balanced, as well as a creative outlet to turn to in times of stress.

Making music with the help of a music therapist while in an alcohol and drug rehab can provide the therapeutic benefits described above. There are also many practical ways that recovering addicts can get involved with music to enhance their recovery.

Ways You can use Music to Enhance Your Recovery

While music therapy is a specific type of treatment that is facilitated by trained music therapists, many people use music as a way to bring joy and healing into their life even without professional assistance. Many famous musicians such as Macklemore have used their music as a way to keep themselves motivated in their sobriety and express their thoughts and feelings surrounding addiction.

It is important to note that not all music will be helpful for your recovery. Because music can stir up powerful feelings, songs that remind you of drinking or using drugs can be triggering and should be avoided, especially in early recovery. With that being said, here are a few ways you can incorporate music into your life to help you stay sober in the long term:

Start drumming.

Drumming is one way to make music that has been shown to provide many benefits to recovering addicts, including stress reduction and providing feelings of pleasure. Joining a drum circle can help you feel connected to others and give you a positive way to spend free time.

Create your own motivational playlists.

Creating playlists is fun and now easier than ever. Create playlists of songs you enjoy around certain themes, such as songs for relaxation and songs to motivate you to exercise.

Meditate with music.

Meditation has been shown to help people in recovery, but it can be difficult to do at first. Listening to certain music can help you calm the mind and act as a buffer for meditation practice when first starting out.

Write a song. (Even if you do not share it with anyone.)

Keeping a journal is another recovery practice that many people find helpful to get out their thoughts and feelings. Try using your journal as a place to experiment with writing your own poems or songs.

Many people have used music and music therapy to help them work through their addictions and achieve long-term recovery. Whether with the help of a music therapist or through using music on your own, there is no doubt that music is a powerful tool for growth and healing in addiction recovery.

Why are musicians more likely to suffer from depression?

Creative artists are fifth in the top 10 professions with high rates of depressive illness. But does depression attract them to the job? Or does the job make them depressed?

Health.com recently published a top 10 of professions with the highest rate of depression– one chart most artists wouldn’t want to be on. However, people working in the arts are fifth most likely to suffer from depression, with around 9% of them reporting a major depressive episode in the previous year. It appears carving out a career as a musician isn’t just perilous when it comes to earning a living – it can also cause damage to your physical and mental health. Musicians supplementing their income by waiting tables would rate even higher on the chart, as food service staff are second most prone to depression.

You know it the second you hear the first notes. It’s that one special song that makes your spine tingle. You can feel the tears welling up in your eyes.

How does that happen? Only seven notes can come together to form a soul-moving melody that can break your heart, make you cry, and bring back buried, long-forgotten memories.

Music is powerful.

 

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1. Music helps you work through your problems

Often during your darkest nights, you can’t find a way through the muddy alleyways of your mind. Good news! Don’t just lie there, turn on Google play and let the music flow into you. If you cry, that’s OK. Tears represent feelings that must be expressed. Feeling is healing.

Music helps you express your emotions. It’s melodic encouragement that helps you let go of suppressed feelings. A study published in the British Journal showed that music is cathartic, especially drumming. You didn’t need a medical study to prove that. You discovered that yourself when you were a 4 year-old banging on your mother’s pots and pans.

2. Music inspires creativity

Do you need to write a blog, run faster on the treadmill, or design a new website but can’t because you’re feeling uninspired? Pump up the jam. Music will motivate you. Go ahead, try to sit still while listening to Avicii sing Wake Me Up, it’s just not possible.

Finnish researchers found that the mind-wandering mode goes into action when your brain processes a song, thus inspiring creativity. These rewards don’t only happen to artists: Techies also benefit from the relaxing effect of music.

Professor Gold (one of the Finnish researchers) who conducted the study said, “Our trial has shown that music therapy, when added to standard care including medication, psychotherapy and counseling, helps people to improve their levels of depression and anxiety. Music therapy has specific qualities that allow people to express themselves and interact in a non-verbal way – even in situations when they cannot find the words to describe their inner experiences.”

3. Music affects your breathing

Music has the power to speed up your heartbeats or slow down your breathing. Musicians beware! You respond differently than the rest of us.

Anyone can feel the music. Your foot starts tapping as your body sways from side to side. Who hasn’t been to a concert when you felt the bass beating in your chest? There is scientific proof behind it.

A slow, meditative tempo has a relaxing effect slowing your heart rate and breathing while faster music with an upbeat tempo speeds up your heart rate and respiration.

You are can be in charge of your body, simply by choosing which songs you listen to. Next time you’re feeling anxious, when your heart starts to race, grab your headset and listen to Zen Garden.

4. Music can reduce blood pressure

Here’s the prescription: Listen to classical, Celtic or reggae music 30 minutes a day to lower your blood pressure. According to the American Society of Hypertension, research shows this simple prescription might significantly reduce high blood pressure.

In a report from Dr. Peter Sleight at the University of Oxford, research has shown “music can alleviate stress, improve athletic performance, improve movement in neurologically impaired patients with stroke or Parkinson’s disease, and even boost milk production in cattle.”

Don’t throw away your medication yet, but music is certainly an easier pill to take.


5. Music is used to treat addiction

Music therapy can be of great value in treating addiction. It is certainly not enough by itself to help someone recover from substance abuse, but it can be a useful tool in the treatment process.

Addiction is a painful disease that affects the entire family and circle of friends. Making the decision to enter rehab is the first step towards recovery. Help is available and new methods of treatment are continually being discovered.

Thamkrabok is a Buddhist temple in Thailand offering free treatment to for addiction. Music plays an important role at the temple because of its therapeutic powers. The monks of Thamkrabok even have their own recording studio.  Tim Arnold, the UK musician made a whole album there.

Sobriety is an emotional roller coaster. Music (either playing it or listening to it) may help people get rid of some of their destructive emotions.

6. Music might prevent suicide

The sound of music is incredibly powerful. It can even prevent suicide.

IN 1997, DMC aka Darrell McDaniels, of Run DMC, was at the top of the charts. While touring he fell into a negative downward spiral, thinking Is this all there is?

He was serious. At that moment, he made a decision to commit suicide when he got home.

Staring at the walls in a cold hotel room, Sarah McLachlan’s song “Angel” came on the radio. You know it’s power. It makes you cry and want to run out and adopt one of those sad animals in the SPCA commercial.

It’s hard to believe, but that song changed his suicide plan. He became a huge fan of Sarah McLachlan. Soon after, he found out he was adopted, which gave his life new meaning.

After DMC trashed his suicide plan, he made a new plan to use his music and fame to decided to promote adoption and help foster kids. He even made a documentary to promote his worthy cause.

7. Music in the operating room

Did you know doctors have a specific playlist for different types of surgery?

 Anthony Youn, M.D. cites a study published in “Surgical Endoscopy” that found classical music affected surgeons more positively than hard rock or heavy metal.

Oddly, another study published by “Surgical Innovation” noted surgeons’ performances benefitted most from hip-hop and reggae the music. Go figure!

Dr. Youn says, “It probably comes down to taste, with surgeons finding comfort and inspiration working to the music they like to hear.”

Doctors aren’t the only ones affected. Several studies show that patients appear more relaxed, require less anesthesia, and recover quicker when physicians play tunes in the OR.

Nearly 80% of operating room support staff believed music had a positive effect on their work as well. I wonder if the remaining 20% wear noise-cancelling headphones.

Who knows what the future of the OR will bring? Maybe there’ll be a DJ taking requests for your favorite spins.

8.  Music reduces pain

Whether it’s Sam Smith, Lady Gaga, or Jason Mraz, the lyrics and melodies they write and sing can be effective therapy for managing pain. According to a paper in the UK-based Journal of Advanced Nursing, listening to music can reduce chronic pain from a range of painful conditions, including osteoarthritis, disc problems and rheumatoid arthritis, by up to 21%. That’s a lot when you’re hurting.

Music is a distraction that gives the patient a sense of control. Music causes the body to release endorphins, which counteract pain.

9. Music jars your memory

Beware: Handle music with care. Some songs put you in a time machine and set you back to painful times. Hopefully, when you get there, you will remember the lessons you learned, see how much you have grown and how much better you are doing since leaving those sad times behind you. Leaving those memories allows you to open your heart to new adventures.

So next time you make your playlist, choose carefully, those songs are going deep into your soul. They might inspire you to create a new start-up, stop drinking so much, become a triathete, or fall in love.

There’s no doubt about it. Those seven notes can change your life.