I started writing songs as a kid and have always captured memories based on the music that resounded from the radio or my dad's stereo system. Music was like a second language for me. When I started working with gender-based violence organizations more than ten years ago, I would use music and writing poetry for self-care to unwind after long hours of crisis intervention with survivors or domestic and sexual violence, providing trauma-informed training for advocates, or prevention education for my peers.
I didn't learn that my favorite hobby was actually benefiting my mental health until nearly eight years into my career when my prevention research switched from focusing on consent education to a public health model for building protective or resilience factors in communities. As a former domestic and sexual violence advocate and educator, I understand how important healing spaces are for our individual and collective well-being.
When people engage with the creative arts, whether through music, literature, dance, visual art, or theatre individually or through collective practice, we increase resilience factors in ourselves and the communities around us and improving our mental health.
Here are just three ways music and writing impact our mental well being.
Developing a regular writing practice can improve communication with others. We're better able to process and express emotions which can help us feel more confident. "Black stories matter" is more than a catchphrase. Documenting individual and collective stories increases gratitude and helps us put our life events into better perspective.
Having a creative practice through writing or music with a community of like-minded people has even greater benefits, giving us a sense of belonging and safety, especially in times of crisis. This is one of the reasons I started hosting a free creative writing workshop not long after the pandemic started. We are wired for relationships and can deepen the emotional connection of those relationships when we are able to express ourselves in a community.
Reduce Blood Pressure & Relieve Stress
Blood flows more easily when we listen to music, which can reduce our heart rate and lower blood pressure. Listening to music increases endorphin levels in the blood, which relieves stress and pain.
Our brain processes music directly through the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that triggers a flight, fight, or freeze response when we experience fear or threats. Developing a creative practice to respond to stressors can help manage or process those emotions.
Elevate Your Mood
Music and writing can boost the brain’s production of the hormone dopamine (or the reward hormone). This is the same hormone that is triggered every time we receive likes and retweets on social media. Aside from being mildly addicted to our phones, when boosted by creative practices, dopamine can help relieve feelings of anxiety and depression.
Listening to music also decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increases serotonin, a mood stabilizing hormone that helps regulate activities like sleeping and eating.
I hope this will make you think twice about listening to or creating music, journaling, and other creative writing practices you have. Whether I'm curating playlists for my work and with my partner, or challenging myself to write with a small community based on affirmations each month, I know I'm contributing to improving the mental well being when so many of us could use it the most.