Music and mental health
July 18 2023
Here at the Charlie Waller Trust, staff, trainers, volunteers and supporters have put together a playlist of our favourite feel-good tunes. You also helped us curate this feel-good playlist at Flackstock by sharing your favourite tunes!
Feeling connected to others is key to good mental health and music can help us improve feelings of connectedness and equality1. This can come about either in a direct way, for instance when we are at a concert or festival, or a more indirect way – perhaps by being aware that others are listening to the same song or piece of music in their own ways. We may also relate in positive ways to the lyrics of a song or to the musician’s experiences.
Does this CHIME with your experience?
Dr Mary Leamy and others developed the CHIME framework2 (which sounds rather musical itself!). The acronym stands for five elements in the process of recovery from poor mental health
Hope and optimism
Meaning in life
Music has been linked to the CHIME framework. The suggestion is that engaging in music helps us build on these five key areas which are important for anyone recovering from a period of poor mental health.
Words and music
Engaging with song lyrics can help us get in contact with difficult feelings in a different way from usual3, sometimes offering us some hope when we don’t feel great! However, we need to be aware that the opposite can also be true with some lyrics potentially being a little triggering.
Singing can help us regulate our breathing when we are not feeling great, perhaps experiencing anxiety or stress. Singing along to a favourite song can prompt us to take deeper and more rhythmic breaths.
Singing along to a favourite song can prompt us to take deeper and more rhythmic breaths.
This can be really useful for those who find more common breathing techniques don’t work for them. Remember, this can take the form of singing along ‘internally’ - so we don’t have to expose our voice to others if we don’t want to!
Singing in a group can be even more beneficial, for example a choir or other singing group4. And if singing isn’t your thing, other activities like community drumming groups can also play a part in improving our mental health5.
Music and movement
Music can have an impact on exercise too: listening to music is associated with increased enjoyment, and with providing a distraction from any feelings of discomfort during exercise6.
This means we can keep exercising for longer or exercise more frequently to maximise its health benefits.
And, of course, it doesn’t have to mean formal exercise – just moving to music in any way you like can be beneficial.
The key is to find ways to make music work for you – focus on things that are as simple and achievable as possible.
We don’t need fancy equipment, headphones, or pricey subscriptions – use free versions of online music services if you prefer (normally this just means having to listen to a few adverts after a handful of songs).
When you're out and about...
Try the Feelgood Five
Create a playlist of five songs which evoke good feelings or memories for you, then when you don’t feel great you can try listening to it. Why not shortcut the list to your phone’s home screen (app permitting), so it’s easy to access when you need it most?
You could listen while walking to the bus stop, from the car park to work, or even doing the weekly shop.
The best thing is you can change the playlist at any point to fit your changing musical tastes!
Move to music
Music can help us while we’re exercising, by distracting us when it feels hard – and even by matching the rhythm to our stride patterns. This could be a great way to start on the NHS Couch to 5k app, which allows you to use your own music. Any kind of movement or dancing can be more enjoyable when done to your favourite tunes!
Some of us may want to go to live music gigs but find it challenging or overwhelming, for instance if we experience anxiety or are neurodivergent. Some venues and artists now offer autism friendly performances and experiences which can help with accessing gigs.
Projects like Gig Buddies, which operates in Sussex, England, may also be helpful.
When you’re at home...
Make music part of your self-care routine. Identify a quiet corner and time where you’re less likely to get distractions. Use that time to listen to your favourite songs or search for new ones. This can help link these songs with a feeling of being calmer and more at ease.
Join with others
If you feel confident enough, consider joining a local choir, singing or even something like a drumming group. These groups may offer a ‘taster’ session so you can try it out before committing. They often operate online too.
Why not use your positive experiences of listening to music to inspire you to write your own lyrics or poetry? This can help us to explore our own feelings and experiences. It can either be kept very personal to you, or it might be something you eventually want to share with others too! If you are feeling especially creative, why not take up a musical instrument or create art to accompany your words? You might even want to try writing your own music.
This article was written by Ian Macdonald.
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The Charlie Waller Trust is a registered charity in England and Wales 1109984. A company limited by guarantee. Registered company in England and Wales 5447902. Registered address: The Charlie Waller Trust, First Floor, 23 Kingfisher Court, Newbury, Berkshire, RG14 5SJ.
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