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6 things music could do for your mind

17 May 2018

The mind can be a wonderful, complicated, yet sometimes troublesome place.

As 6 Music marks Mental Health Awareness Week – including daily updates from Chris Hawkins – we’re reflecting on the focus for 2018, stress, and looking at ways music can relieve the mind.

Our guests are often sharing with us what the power of music can do for them in all sorts of situations, so here are six examples of how it can help when it comes to stress, anxiety and the mind. The BBC also has lots more information about mental health issues and ways to seek help and support if you need it online.

1. Music can help provide calm and focus

Is there a relationship between jazz music and ADD?

Broadcaster Tina Edwards explores...

DJ and journalist Tina Edwards is convinced that the right music helps her to manage ADD symptoms. “This music really calms my mind,” she says of jazz, which she discovered in her 20s after growing up listening to rock. “The firework processes and sparks going off and fast movements [in my mind] really complemented this spontaneous fast moving music… it was the first time I felt calmed by music in a certain way.”

Jazz is always there to pick me up and make me feel excited
Tina Edwards

Edwards is currently investigating how jazz can help the condition more widely, and she says the results so far are encouraging.

“I spoke to people with ADD and ADHD and a lot of them, particularly those in jazz, would say ‘it’s the only thing that allows me to fully immerse myself in something that pushes me. The firework processes of my mind are complemented by it.’ Everyone was saying the same thing as me”, she explains.

“I have a chronic boredom and jazz helps me to satisfy that boredom… when I’m lost in my thoughts and find it hard to pay attention jazz is always there to pick me up and make me feel excited and keep me focused.”

2. Music can help put things in perspective

'We came to LA bearing some sadness after some rough times'- First Aid Kit on the making of 'Ruins'

Mary Anne poses six burning questions to First Aid Kit. This is question one...

When there’s a lot going on in life, it’s often a song or a piece of music that can help to put things in perspective, thanks largely to the instinctive way it allows experiences to be shared.

It’s extremely cathartic for us to write music
Johanna Söderberg

“We spent five weeks in Los Angeles when we were writing our album Ruins and we came there bearing some sadness after some rough times,” recalls Klara Söderberg from Swedish folk sisters First Aid Kit. “Going there gave us some perspective on what was going on, and we wrote about it.”

Combining feelings and emotions with words and music can offer a new insight on an issue.

“It’s extremely cathartic for us to write music, it’s the way we deal with things in our lives,” agrees her sister, Johanna, though she says you don’t need to make music to benefit from its cathartic qualities, as she believes hearing can be just as powerful, explaining:

“You have this incredible thing happen when you release it [your music] and all of a sudden people write to us and say, ‘I heard your song and I’m going through the same thing and it resonated with me.’ It’s this beautiful circle.”

3. Music can lower your stress levels… and your blood pressure

How music can increase positivity and well-being

Orthopedic surgeon Ramon Tahmassebi on the benefits of music in the operating theatre.

The right music, the tunes that make you happy, can be so effective at lowering your stress that doctors are starting to use it in operations to calm patients.

Quite a lot of what I do is with patients awake and we encourage people to bring their music in with them
Ramon Tahmassebi

“Quite a lot of what I do is with patients awake and we encourage people to bring their music in with them, play something on a playlist and think happy thoughts so they’re not stressed and pretty relaxed,” explains orthopaedic surgeon Ramon Tahmassebi of how he is using music during operations.

“Some people get really freaked out by anything medical at all, so it can work really well to remove that tension and put them back into a happy place… it can be pretty effective and bring people’s blood pressure down.”

4. Music can inspire confidence when you need it…

'For two years, I couldn't listen to any music' - Shappi Khorsandi

Comedian Shappi Khorsandi on the important role that music plays in her life.

Comedian Shappi Khorsandi articulates an experience familiar to many about the role music can play in helping you to find your own identity as a person.

I had new teenage years of consuming music I’d never listened to before
Shappi Khorsandi

“Through various stages of your formative years you do find those times when self-expression is tremendously difficult, you don’t feel comfortable in your own skin as you’re trying to negotiate your way as a brand new adult in this world where everyone is a professional adult and music carries you through that,” she suggests.

However, she also recalls a time when music was less helpful, although eventually she was able to come back to it when the time, emotions and song was right.

“After I went through my divorce, we’re talking about my mid 30s, for two years I couldn’t listen to any music at all,” she explains.

“I’ve realised now that is more common than you can imagine. It’s quite significant at this most hellish time in my life I withdrew from the thing that triggered emotions. My radio was locked on talk stations; any piece of music would send me into a spiral of despair. But what I love about music, is just when you’ve got to an age when you think you’ve been through all your obsessive discovery of something new, I then heard Elbow’s One Day Like This and the cloud lifted and I had new teenage-like years of consuming music I’d never listened to before.”

5. Music can help articulate things that are hard to say

Jordan Rakei: The perks of being a wallflower

Multi-instrumentalist Jordan Rakei on the benefits of being an introspective artist.

Whether you listen to it or write it, music allows lots of different people to express issues that can be hard to bring up in conversation.

I never talk to my friends about problems I have with my mind
Jordan Rakei

“I think music is the only way I am able to express the stuff that’s happening in my head,” says singer-songwriter Jordan Rakei. “I have a song called Eye To Eye that’s about seeing eye to eye with the other side of my mind. You could call it the ego, whatever, but it’s facing yourself when you’re lying in bed at night, your head is rolling around, your thoughts are going off at a tangent.”

He adds: “I never talk to my friends about problems I have with my mind – I feel everyone goes through similar sorts of problems. For me, music is the outlet because I can write it on a page and sing it, and then someone can listen to it and I can walk away where there’s no awkward tension of them hearing my story. Whereas if I’m telling someone face to face I’m burdening them with this story.”

And it does not necessarily matter if the song is yours or not, sometimes sharing music with someone else can be a way to start sharing emotions and experience.

6. Music can offer reassurance

'Devo gave me a reason to live'

Julia Cumming of Sunflower Bean opens up about the impact music has had on her life.

It’s not always the solution – and rarely the only answer to solving issues – but there are times when, thanks to music’s immediacy and emotional resonance, listening to a song or artist can offer some much-needed reassurance.

There’s no way to measure how much quality of life a band like Devo could give you
Julia Cumming

“I was really horribly depressed, maybe when I was 14, and I have a distinct memory that I was in a car listening to Devo,” says Julia Cumming, of New York-based psychedelic punks Sunflower Bean.

“I remember the moment of really getting it and that being enough. The fact that they did that, the fact that that existed, was enough to give me reason to live.”

She adds: “That’s what bands do, that’s why the fandom gets so serious. There’s no way to measure how much quality of life or faith in your strangeness, differentness or your loneliness that a band like Devo could give you. There’s no way to measure what it’s done for people or what it still does.”

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