Monday, 21 January 2019

Blue Monday? Let Music Be Your Medicine!

Seeing as today is Blue Monday - supposedly the most depressing day of the year - I wanted to write a blog about one of the best ways to boost your emotional and physical well-being: Music.

More and more studies are showing that music has benefits way beyond mere enjoyment.  Listening to a song that we love can cheer us up when we're in a grump.  Playing an emotional ballad when you've got a lot of pent-up feelings can be the catalyst to finally letting those feelings out (and it's fair to say that most of us start to feel at least a little better after a good cry).

But it's not just listening to music that can have an effect on our deeper well-being.  Recent reports claim that doctors will soon be "prescribing" the arts to patients suffering from loneliness, mental health issues or even dementia, such is the positive impact that playing an instrument or singing in a group can have on a person's well-being.

It's a subject I passionately believe in.  Music has always been an outlet for my emotions, as well as something comforting that I throw myself into when the world feels bleak.  Breaking out a favourite album on a bad day is like snuggling down under a warm duvet; it just makes you feel better.

But passive listening can only go so far.

In the past, when life has been difficult, I've been known to resort to "YouTube karaoke."  I could never explain it, but somehow, belting out a ballad had the power to unleash all the emotion I'd been bottling up, but in a way that felt positive and powerful.  And once the sad songs were over with, I'd inevitably end up warbling away to some uptempo tunes.  Without fail, I'd end my personal karaoke session feeling much better than I had when I started it.  

Nowadays, I sing with a chorus and I've learnt far more about how music works to boost your health - not just your mental health, but your physical well-being, too.  Did you know, for example, that singing teaches you the correct way to breathe?  Believe it or not, there is a wrong way.  And for someone like me, who suffers with chronic asthma, it's pretty important that I know the difference.

Not only has my lung capacity improved since I joined said chorus, but my posture is definitely better, too.  That's because one of the number one things you learn is that standing in a saggy, slumped position won't help you sound good when you sing.  Once you've realised that you need a good posture for singing purposes, you frequently find yourself remembering your "singing stance" for when you're standing in a long queue, or doing anything that requires you to be on your feet for long periods.

The mental health benefits were less unexpected; of course singing in harmony sounds amazing and therefore makes you feel amazing, because you're a part of it.  Singing is a fantastic stress-reliever, too.  It's hard to fret about family or worry about work when you're busy trying to nail that tricky key change.

And then there's the social aspect.  

Joining any kind of group - be it a choir, a band or a sports team - means that you're getting out of the house (and hopefully out of your own head space) at least once a week and talking to other people.  It gives you the opportunity to broaden your social circle and make new friends.  Inevitability, that group mentality leads to a feeling of support and closeness; you are part of something.  You are one of the family.

Look, I'm not about to say that joining a choir or doing some karaoke is enough to cure depression (or any other illness) all by itself.  Obviously, seeking professional medical attention when you're in any way unwell should be your first port of call.  But if you're just looking for something to boost your well-being, there is a lot to be said for allowing music to be your medicine.

It certainly worked for me.

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