Music: an art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions in significant forms through the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, and color. (dictionary.com)
Music is undoubtedly one of the most powerful human innovations, and its importance and effects cannot easily be put into words. Music is associated with many of life’s big moments, such as weddings and funerals, and is an intrinsic part of our existence, with its ability to evoke so many emotions, and conjure up an abundance of memories. For example, every time I hear Human by The Killers I am reminded of my university years, as this was played to excess during this period. Or if I hear Heroes by David Bowie I am reminded of the summer of 2005 during my A Levels, as we used this music in a short film made during Media Studies, which ultimately led me to work in TV. Music is interwoven into the entire fabric of our lives, and very little art forms can cause such feelings or emotions: sadness, joy, fear, nostalgia, hope.
Musics’ effect on human emotions consequently ensures that it can play a big part in depression, both in its cause, but also its relief. For instance, if you hear a song on the radio that was played at a loved ones funeral, then this can trigger the inevitable well of emotions, such as sadness and anguish, and possibly lead to a period of prolonged low mood once these reminiscences set in. Similarly, if you listen to a fast, loud, metal track, then that is presumably going to cause someone who is anxious to feel more stressed, as the fast beat will only increase the heart rate of the individual, rather than aiding in relaxation. It’s no coincidence that classical or ‘easy listening’ music is recommended to those suffering with stress, rather than pounding techno!
On a personal level, when I’m feeling depressed, I prefer to listen to music that reflects my mood (although in especially dark periods I don’t even have the energy to do that). I don’t particularly want to listen to so called ‘feel good music’ when depressed or anxious, because rather than lifting my mood, its conflicting juxtaposition with my frame of mind can actually cause more anxiety as the emotions of the song and the emotions I’m feeling are so divergent. I choose to listen to more reflective, poignant and emotive music that relates to my situation and how I’m feeling. I find it infinitely more relaxing, and am also able to empathise with the sentiment and mood created. Of course, when I’m in a stable or happy period I listen to more positive or upbeat music, as this matches how I’m feeling internally, and I’m able to enjoy the positive energy that emanates from the song.
There is even a clinical use for music in the form of the fairly recent innovation that is Music Therapy, which can help with a number of conditions, including depression and anxiety, as this link shows. The Music Therapy Charity site states that “music therapy uses sound and music as a therapeutic medium to bring about change.” Further insight into this field can be found in this Guardian article which focuses on what a Music Therapist does, in this case Helen Odell-Miller. As she states in the article, “latest studies show both that music affects the brain positively, and also that regular music therapy sessions reduce agitation and anxiety”. More than 1.1 billion prescription items were dispensed in England in 2014, and I wonder how many of those were anti depressants or similar? Music Therapy may be fairly new, and still in the process of evolving, but why not provide this on the NHS, even if initially merely as an experiment? If it doesn’t work, then what have we lost? Surely if there is even a chance of a solution that doesn’t involve pumping people full of drugs, then its worth a shot?
I thought I would finish with sharing 5 songs that I listen to when particularly down. Some have personal significance, or have lyrics that really affect me, whereas others simply create an emotive response based on the music alone. Frequently its inconceivably difficult to put into words how you are feeling, or what emotions are manifesting themselves within, and yet music can do this in a mere 3 or 4 minutes. It’s a language in itself, and its not beyond reason to posit the belief that music and emotion are in many ways one and the same. As Aldous Huxley put it, “after silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music. Music is what feelings sound like.”
Frank Turner – Redemption
Annie Lennox – Into The West
Johnny Cash – Hurt
Passenger – Whispers
Damien Rice – Grey Room