The power of music on emotions, stress, and mental

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Many of the habits associated with good mental health involve creating or listening to music. Good mental health is often achieved through a combination of several habits including a healthy diet, exercise, connection with others and expressing emotions in constructive ways. Of the many benefits music has on mental health, the most noticeable is the release of stress and emotions.  

UW Music student Cameron Slipp said, “Playing music has always been a method of stress relief for me. I often find myself noodling away on the piano when I’m stressed and I’ve been doing that a lot , lately, because of the pandemic.”

Cameron Slipp

“Music acts as a creative outlet for our emotions, which we often bottle up inside of us,” Kayla Burmaster, a Music and Psychology student, said. “Music can regulate our emotions. It activates the neocortex of the brain, which helps calm us and reduce impulsivity.” 

Kayla Burmaster

Anita Chen, a Math student with a minor in Music, explained how over the past few months she has improvised and composed a song on the piano to reflect, depict, and let out her pandemic-related emotions.  “I feel like I am channelling the nuances, conflicts, and states of my emotion into music. Those activities help me to express my feelings beyond words and ultimately make me more resilient,” Chen explained. 

Anita Chen

Chen and Slipp aren’t the only Waterloo students who use their emotions to inspire the music they create. “For some, it’s easier to express feelings by writing song lyrics or expressing it through the elemental components of the music,” Burmaster said. “Music is often written about people’s personal experiences and it helps people feel less lonely when they find a song with lyrics that really resonate with their personal situation.”

Music can make a listener feel a multitude of different emotions based on the composer’s intent. Burmaster explained further, “Music is proven to reduce stress. However, if you choose to listen to the theme of the popular game-based learning platform Kahoot, you may experience an increase of stress, as the music was specifically designed to create tension.” 

“The way that music emotionally resonates with me varies depending on both my mood and the music,” Slipp added.“Music can make me feel calm, but it can also make me feel stressed. Music can make me feel connected, but it can also make me feel alone. I think part of the beauty of music is its power to embody and amplify any emotions.”

The Conrad Grebel University College Music Department at UW is mindful of the connection between music and mental health. While music ensembles can not be in person this term, the new virtual format provides students with the opportunity to let out their emotions, connect with others, and create music together, all of which will help improve student mental health.

Additionally, UW’s Thrive program brings attention to the importance of building positive mental health. Thrive week is held the first week of November and includes events about simple mindful cooking, managing stress as a university student, and “Noondaagochige,” a virtual Noon Hour Concert presented by Grebel. On Nov. 4, 2020, saxophonist Olivia Shortt will share her new music pieces as well as those of artists she has met over the past few years. 

Though it will not occur during Thrive week, Grebel will also release a Noon Hour Concert on Nov. 25, 2020, called “Music for Self-Isolation.” Guitarist Mariette Stephenson will play several pieces by composer Frank Horvat. While at home during the pandemic, Horvat was struggling to figure out how to share his music because people can not come together in person and play music. He came up with a solution and has written 31 solos and duets for every type of musician to enjoy in their own home. Both Horvat and Stephenson, though performing and playing alone, are using their music to build community and stay connected with others.

“The pandemic makes me realize how music-making can contribute to my resiliency,” Chen said. 

All of these musicians have become more resilient and improved their mental health by overcoming challenges and negative emotions posed by the pandemic by simply playing and listening to music. 

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