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Katie Rose
from: Katie Rose
Category: General Discussion

Music of the Mind

Music of the Mind

Last month I was honoured to be part of two wonderful charity events both of which have prompted me to think more deeply about the essential contribution of music to healthy mental wellbeing throughout life. The events were Space for Experience  - a special event to celebrate the contribution of elders by Age UK Croydon at Croydon Minster on 6th October and You Can Sing!  a special free Singing Workshop on 12th October, supported by Happy Soul - an independent Charity that uses the arts in an innovative way to de-stigmatise mental health and promote well-being.

How Singing Supports Mental Wellbeing

Stigma it seems to me is the thing we most have to address - Stephen Fry

Statistics from the Mental Health Foundation indicate that 1 in 4 of us may experience a mental health issue during our life time, anxiety and depression being the most common.  Whether it is due to a life trauma, stress, habitual thought patterns, the ageing process and/or chemical imbalance, mental distress can effect many of us.  As such it is not unusual, weird or whacky - it’s simply akin to breaking a mental leg - and rather than stigmatisation and alienation requires a creative, compassionate and intelligent response.

Singing and musical have been been demonstrated to have innumerable positive benefits on our mental wellbeing since ancient times - here’s a few thoughts on how.

1. Giving Permission
Ultimately singing is about being and expressing ourselves in all our complexity -warts, wonders n all.  We all long to be seen in our truth, to express our deepest feelings and fulfil our creative dreams and visions - to live a happy, healthy and fulfilling life.  Singing is one way that we can express our deepest selves and connect with one another.

There are different kinds of issues effecting different groups in society, but singing is a kind of universal activity that people can engage in from birth onwards, literally. - Prof Stephen Clift

2. Oxygenating the Mind
The mechanics of singing require us to breath more deeply and rhythmically in order to sustain phrases and melodies, giving our cardio-vascular system a gentle work-out.  Our heart rate is regulated and more oxygen reaches all parts of our body, including our brain which therefore supports more effective brain function.

3. Active Attention
Singing brings our attention into the present moment, as we concentrate on lyrics, melodies and sound patterns.   The Gamelan Project has demonstrated that children with ADHD showed improvements in their ability to concentrate after participating in music projects.  Director of the project ethnomusicologist Dr Alex Khalli says in a BBC Article:

By learning music, one of the things you learn is rhythm and how to be aware of the temporal dynamic of the world around you and how to keep your attention focused on all of these things while you do what you do.

4. Regulating Thought Patterns
Singing replaces the erratic thought patterns experienced during mental disturbance with regulated, rhythmic sound waves.  A recent BBC article features a Study by the University of St Andrew, in Scotland which demonstrates an increase in mental function in musicians:  

Our study shows that even moderate levels of musical activity can benefit brain functioning.  Our findings could have important implications as the processes involved are amongst the first to be affected by aging, as well as a number of mental illnesses such as depression.  The research suggests that musical activity could be used as an effective intervention to slow, stop or even reverse age, or illness related decline in mental functioning.  - Dr Ines Jentzsch, Psychologist

Music requires a whole-brain response, synchronising kinesthetic, linguistic, emotional and sensory responses.   This means it has the capacity to bring profound relief for those experiencing Alzheimers, Parkinsons and Dementia - as explained by Founder of  The Alzheimers Society project  Singing for the Brain - Chreanne Montgomery Smith  

There is a remarkable preservation of melody and the words of songs in the brain.  You've got rhythm in one side of the brain and the memory for words in the other side of the brain. The idea of remembering melody and emotion together is very strongly protected. It's not that a particular spot of damage is going to ruin it.

5. Fear busting
When we sing we move from a state of ‘I Can't to I Can - from fear to confidence. Singing alleviates anxiety, inhibitions, self-doubt and other negative mental states because it offers a safe space to express ourselves. As we learn and develop our confidence whilst singing, we become brave, creative and expressive beings. An NHS video features the story of Jane who overcame her phobia of driving through singing.

It's producing a sound from your own mouth that then is reverberated by others in your group and you produce a huge sound; It's changed my life, basically. I know it sounds really dramatic, but that's what happened. Phobias can tend to be all dominating in your life and I was very much out of control with it. And I'm not any more. And I think that's probably one of the biggest messages, that you can get some kind of control back again in your own life. - Jane

6. Emotional Expression
Singing gives outlet to our feelings in all their spectrum - for every life experience and state of mind there exists a song - whether it already exists or is waiting for us to write it.

There are lots of songs that are chosen that allow people to express, in a safe environment, uncomfortable emotions which they really can't express to each other, so it's done in song. It is a little tension-valve release. - Chreanne Montgomery Smith

As difficulties, tensions and painful feelings are expressed through song, there is an increase in positive feeling states - Dr Maria Sandgren, Psychologist at Department of Psychology, University of Stockholm, Sweden measured the emotional effects of singing on 218 singers in Stockholm:

Results indicated that choral singing had strong effects on the well being in that positive emotions increased significantly and, in turn, negative emotions radically subsided.  In conclusion, I found that choral singers, particularly women, are happier, more alert and relaxed after a rehearsal.

7. Belonging
In a recent talk about The Power of the Mind in Getting Well, Dr Janet Hranicky said one of the most overlooked factors in health recovery was our biological need for bonding - to feel physically, emotionally and mentally close to others and to share positive, nourishing relationships.  Studies have shown that singers in choirs release oxytocin which is the hormone released during birth and sex that supports the bonding process.  

We could also see that they felt more together after the choral singing and also less alone. Choral singing is definitely a very social phenomenon. - Dr Maria Sandgren

More simply put, singing helps us to remember that we belong to one another.

Do join me at this months events to celebrate the monumental magic of music

Wishing you the joyous singing of your own song

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