When you feel down and out, sing a song it’ll make your day… you will turn to shout about, sing a song, it’ll make a way…sometimes it’s hard to care, sing a song, it’ll make your day, it’s not so hard to bear, sing a song it’ll make a way…
Those are the words of a popular song from Earth, Wind and Fire’s 1976 hit, Sing a Song. In its simple lyrics it tells what singing can do for your state of mind, helping to relieve stress and sadness and make it more bearable.
Relieve Stress, Increase Happiness Hormones: Sing!
Many health experts advise physical exercise to relieve stress and clear a bad mood. But did you know that even just singing in the shower, in your car, or goofing around screeching, or squeaking, out a song with a karaoke machine every day can do the same thing? Many therapists in Europe are even championing “singing on prescription” as a way to improve health simply by singing. I think you’ll be surprised at the physical health benefits that singing offers:
1. Decrease stress levels. Anytime you exercise your lungs by taking in more oxygen and exhaling repeatedly, you can dramatically decrease your stress level. This is why stress therapists focus so much on deep breathing to relieve anxiety and stress. Research out of Harvard and Yale Universities has found that the deep breathing associated with singing even relieves symptoms of IBS – irritable bowel syndrome. Singing increases oxygen levels in your blood the same way aerobic exercise does.
2. Decreases blood pressure. Singing helps release the bad stress hormone cortisol which can elevate blood pressure and blood sugar, and create disease-causing inflammation in your body.
3. Strengthens muscles. Singing, especially when you sing from your diaphragm, rather than your vocal chords, helps make your “core” muscles (back and abdomen) stronger.
4. Helps your memory. Memorizing words to songs and refrains helps strengthen your recall.
5. Decreases pain. Singing helps release oxytocin and dopamine in your body.
6. Boosts your immune function. By decreasing cortisol, lessening stress, and decreasing blood pressure, your immune function becomes stronger.
But that’s not all…singing also offers some excellent mental health benefits such as:
1. Increases good brain/body chemicals. Singing helps release serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin “feel good/love” hormones throughout your brain and body.
2. Makes you feel happy. Have you ever noticed how fast an energetic song can pick your mood up and make boredom and sadness melt away? Fast-beat musical rhythms actually change your brain waves from slower, more static waves when you’re unhappy, to faster, more active waves when you’re happy.
3. Singing is personally rewarding. If you can join a group to sing in – like at your church or other organization’s choir – you’ll reap even more positive rewards. Blending your voice with a group, matching the sounds, or harmonizing, has a calming effect on your brain. Even going out to do karaoke with a group of friends not only can be a lot of fun but can also boost your mood. Singing can have other positive self-esteem and social effects for you as well. Meeting new people with like interests can help you feel part of a group and decrease feelings of loneliness – especially around holidays. For example, many people feel down around the holidays but when they join a group and go caroling with others, or sing in holiday events, they feel their “holiday blues” lift significantly. They’re more willing to participate in the spirit of the holiday and the holidays pass more enjoyably for them.
Many of my clients ask me what they can do to get out, meet new people and do new things. Singing can be a great way for older people to both make new social connections and feel better physically and emotionally. And you don’t even have to be able to carry a tune very well for you to reap the stress-relieving, happiness creating benefits of singing.
It’s also one of the easiest forms of “aerobic exercise” that you can do and requires no equipment. Find an organization whose choir you might join, or even just take a vocal music class at your local community college. You can also just simply turn up that radio, or your MP3 player; put another CD in the karaoke machine, and sing your heart out…
Like the song says, If you sing a song today, you will make a better way!
Dale Brown, B.S., M.A., C.E.C.
Certified Empowerment Coach