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The Relationship Between Mental Health and Music

This Is Your Brain on Music: The Relationship Between Music and Mental Health

We’ve all been there. You are having a terrible day, so you pop your headphones in and play your favorite song. Soon, your ears are buzzing with the sounds of your favorite artist, and your mood begins to change. You may even find yourself dancing along to the song. Music has a strong effect on how we think and feel. In fact, one study found that music’s main function is to bring pleasure to the listener.1 So it is no surprise that your favorite tunes can put you in a good mood. Banyan’s Heartland treatment center is exploring the relationship between mental health and music and offers some of our favorite picks to listen to when you feel depressed or anxious. 

How Does Music Affect Mental Health? 

Music is proven to help elevate mood and can even reduce the severity of mood disorders such as depression.2 A comforting, familiar, or soothing song can help listeners feel a stronger sense of togetherness, understanding, and deeper positive feelings.3 Physically, listening to music can help promote better mental health by boosting the listener’s immune system, lowering stress hormones, and strengthening neurons through memory or language processing.4 

When you put all these pieces together, you can see how powerful music is for mental and even overall health. There is a positive relationship between mental health and music, with the latter supporting improved mental functions by improving the listener’s mood, lowering stress hormones, and firing positive neurons associated with language or happy memories. 

Music for Anxiety and Depression 

Although our Gilman, IL, Banyan rehab will always recommend using professional counseling and therapy in times of turmoil, we understand that not everyone can drop what they are doing and attend treatment at a moment's notice. Whether you need an auditory pick-me-up or chords to help bring the stress down, these are some of our favorite go-to songs. 

Beneficial Music for Anxiety 

Under Pressure - Queen: This classic is known for its distinctive baseline and identifiable lyrics. It helps to musically identify the way it feels to release tension that we tend to hold onto as a safety blanket. Freddie Mercury’s iconic voice takes us through a journey that highlights the empowering experience of overcoming the barriers that are not only placed in front of us by others but that we even put in front of ourselves.  

Keep Breathing - Ingrid Michaelson: As the name suggests, this ballad encourages the listener to walk through their own emotions and breathe through them. That no matter what the world throws at us, or how much we may want to just shut the world out and stay in bed, “all we can do is keep breathing.” 

Complicated - Avril Levigne: The first lyrics say it all, “chill out, what ya yellin’ for?” When we are trapped in an anxious spiral, just those words alone have the power to snap us back into reality and take inventory of our surroundings. The lyrics can serve as a reminder that, often, our anxiety can influence us to complicate situations, sometimes without realizing it. 

Help - The Beatles: Often, the stigma surrounding mental illness will influence people to avoid expressing their struggles for fear of judgment. Therefore, the lyrics of this folk-rock classic remain poignant even today. Not only is there nothing wrong with asking for help, but there is a great amount of power and courage in doing so. 

Breathin’ - Ariana Grande: Many people who experience panic attacks can attest to the terrifying sensation of struggling to get a breath in. Therefore, Grande’s lyrics throughout the chorus imploring the listener to “just keep breathin,’ and breathin’” can serve as a good reminder to practice those deep breaths to be grounded once again.  

Positive Music for Depression 

Seasons of Love - Rent: Even those that have not had the chance to see this impactful piece of theater have heard this iconic ballad sung or performed. It comes at a part of the show where, despite loss and sadness, the characters can come together and celebrate the lives of those that have passed and the impact their lives have had. 

You Raise Me Up - Josh Groban: This Grammy-nominated operatic pop ballad reminds us of the power that meaningful relationships and connections can have on us. That even in times of sadness and despair, it is within our loved ones that we can get back up again.  

Born This Way - Lady Gaga: For those in need of some self-love and motivation, Gaga has you covered. In her own words, “You have your entire life to birth yourself into becoming the ultimate potential vision that you see for you…'Born This Way' says your birth is not finite. Your birth is infinite.” It means that every new day gives us the opportunity to learn more about ourselves and the impact that we can make on the world around us. 

Fight Song - Rachel Platten: Skyrocketing to a household classic in 2015, this motivational pop-rock song focuses on perseverance even in the face of adversity. It reminds us of hope, grit, and personal agency. 

People Like Us - Kelly Clarkson: This is another powerful composition that seeks to address the isolation that comes along with mental illness and addiction. That there is beauty in acceptance, self-love, and open-mindedness. 

An Approach for Music and Mental Health Recovery 

We encourage all patients who utilize our Illinois addiction treatment services to bring music into their recovery. This can include simply listening to a playlist for mental health, listening to familiar and happy songs, or participating in music therapy programs. There are many benefits of music therapy, such as improved mental health and a greater sense of control over one’s own emotions and recovery. 

New music therapy approaches utilize specific types of music to pinpoint regions within the brain that fire when that music is playing. Early research indicates that specific types of music can help improve sensorimotor, language, and cognitive functions in patients.5 

Music can improve mood, mental health, and it can help support full recovery for patients at our center. 

We invite you to learn more about our levels of care for Heartland drug treatment and call 888-280-4763 for more information. 



  1. NCBI – The psychological functions of music listening 
  2. Healthy Children – Music and Mood 
  3. Oxford Academic – Toward Understanding Music Therapy as a Recovery-Oriented Practice within Mental Health Care: A Meta-Synthesis of Service Users' Experiences 
  4. WRAP – The Healing Power of Music 
  5. NCBI – Music therapy for mental disorder and mental health: the untapped potential of Indian classical music 


Related Readings 

Explaining the Link Between Music & Drugs 

Sober Musicians 

Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.
The Relationship Between Mental Health and Music
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