Music has been written into the scores of human culture since the beginning of civilization — or perhaps even prior. Man has always been drawn to this mode of artistic expression, making it deeply human and integral to our lives and wellness.
Colwyn Trevarthen, Emeritus Professor of Child Psychology and Psychobiology at the University of Edinburgh found in a 2002 study that even infants had “innate psychological foundations of both musical behaviour and musical awareness that are unique to human beings.”
Many studies have found positive correlations between music and mental wellbeing. For example, surgical procedures can induce extreme negative emotions in patients. According to a study done by New York University, listening to music before, during, and after undergoing surgery can reduce a patient’s blood pressure and stress.
For Marquette University sophomore Ellie Marino, music has always been a solace from the stressors of daily life.
“Definitely in my experience, music has been a nice way to express myself, find a really nice emotional output that’s really healthy,” Marino said.
Marino has been playing the clarinet for 10 years and said that it has been a part of her life ever since she can remember.
Music has been found to have significant stress-reducing properties, as William Forde Thompson, professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia found in a study he conducted in 2009 that showed music can cause many different emotional responses in participants.
Jackie Gerhardson, another Marquette student, said that she feels that playing music definitely helps relieve stress in her own life.
“If I’m really having a really bad day, I’ll just sit down and play the guitar and sing and just like let it all out,” Gerhardson said. “Because it’s just a more healthy outlet than like say, ranting to a friend or something else. It’s just a way to get out your emotions without being frustrated.”
Harvard Medical School reviewed research conducted from 1994 to 1999 that found music to be helpful in reducing symptoms of depression in adults in four out of five trials.
Devin McCowan has been playing the Euphonium for over 12 years and has found that both playing and listening to music can help with emotional lows.
“Music and listening to music can also be a form of being able to be with someone in that emotional depression and emotional low points and also have a kind of anonymity that you don’t get when you’re talking to a regular person,” McCowan said. “The person who makes the music, they’re making it for you but also in a sense they don’t know you. You’re able to distance yourself from that emotion but also feel yourself int hat because you know that you don’t have to explain yourself anymore, you can just listen to this and feel how you want to feel.”
Marino said that for her, music helps her on a personal level.
“It’s nice that it’s something I can do by myself, so I don’t have to think about like ‘What are other people saying? What are other people going to think? How are people going to criticize me?’” Marino said. “Because it’s something I can work on independently and take at my own pace. So it’s that nice break that I can do something I really enjoy and I get to fully experience with myself.”
McCowan also echos this personal relationship with music, which he said he feels he can “find a home.”
“I think that’s a good way to deal with mental health issues and stress issues because it’s always somewhere where I feel comfortable and somewhere where I never have to be a different person or confine myself to certain things,” McCowan said. “It’s something that i’ve always known so it allows me to be something that I’ve always been.”
Music therapist Molly Warren wrote for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) that “Music acts as a medium for processing emotions, trauma, and grief — but music can also be utilized as a regulating or calming agent for anxiety or for dysregulation.”
The National Alliance on Mental Illness also cites research that links music therapy to benefits in patients with depression, schizophrenia, or severe trauma.
But music’s mental health benefits are not limited to relieving symptoms of depression.
“[Music] contributes to a person holistically because it contributes to maybe the way you study or it changes the friends you have,” Marino said. “So I feel like there’s different ways that it kind of infiltrates your personality and infiltrates the person you are because it gives you different aspects to seize onto and what you want to take out of it. So like for me at least, I’ve definitely become a better person”
Gerhardson said that playing and listening to music has had a profound impact on her life.
“I would say it definitely always helps my wellness personally,” Gerhardson said. “I think that without music I definitely wouldn’t be the person I am today and able to continue functioning.”