Feeling Blue? Let Music Alter Your Mood!

Feeling Blue? Let Music Alter Your Mood!

The day is grey, you’re feeling lethargic, and a little grumpy for no particular reason, and you most definitely don’t fancy going outside to get some exercise – strike any chords, anyone? If so, it’s time to change the music – or put some on – because it turns out music has the ability to lift our mood! Not only that, but it can also aid memory (if you haven’t already watched the doco ‘Alive Inside,’ on how music has been shown to bring some dementia patients ‘back to life,’ be sure to see i!).

Music is also used in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and stroke; not so surprising given it’s a complex phenomenon demanding we engage multiple areas of our brains to process it. When we do so, it can elicit  strong emotions. As we listen to music, a part of our brain called the ‘limbic system’ is activated (it’s the limbic section of the brain that manages behavioural and emotional responses, especially as they relate to our everyday survival needs). Other sections of the brain (the amygdala and hippocampus) also come into play when we hear music. These structures are linked to emotional processing and memory consolidation. Put the two together, and it’s not difficult to understand why a particular piece of music can remind us of a time and place, significant to us.

It’s not just familiar tunes with the power to evoke significant emotional responses. It can be any piece of music, lively or sombre, with the ability to trigger memories (happy or sad). Even certain combinations of chords (majors and minors, for instance) can have an impact.

When we put all of this music-brain interaction together, we can use it to help lift our spirits, all because of the wonderful natural chemical, ‘dopamine,’ produced in our body. Long considered as a natural antidepressant, the release of dopamine can be activated by ‘happy’ music, cutting through many other traditional pathways such as ‘talk therapy’ and medication.

In fact, listening to certain music can even have a physiological effect on our body, speeding up our heartbeat or slowing it down, depending on the tune we’re hearing. Which is why symphony music can be such a great stress-buster. Next time you find yourself stuck in a traffic jam when you’re late for an appointment, try switching your car radio to ‘Concert,’ and feel the difference!

If you’re already perfectly content with your mood, don’t stop reading, because music also has the ability to increase our productivity (just imagine how quickly you could get your windows washed, or your lawns mowed, with the right tunes coming through your personal speakers). How can the right notes do this – it all comes back to dopamine release! When we’re happier (something the right kind of music can promote), we want to be active. We aren’t besieged by negative signals telling us we’re ‘bound to fail so why start the job in the first place?’ Instead, we’re ready and willing and we can’t wait to get cracking. If you need to be in a more contemplative (but still positive) mood to achieve a creative, thoughtful task (think ‘decorating a cake or writing the first chapter of your memoir’), music can be there for you, too, by listening to something classical.

The secret to improving your mood with music, is to recall the tunes you know make you happy (or productive), even if you can’t access those feelings or incentives right now. Next, create a ‘play list’ (or, better still, ask an app such as Spotify to do this for you). Listen to your playlist, even if you’re not convinced it can help, and keep track of your mood changes using a mood tracking app. It’s a fun way to experiment!

While music certainly has the ability to enhance mood of many listeners, it won’t work for everyone. If you have serious concerns for your mental health, always consult your medical professional.