I stumbled upon a fascinating article about the health benefits of listening to classical music . These benefits are mostly mental/psychological/emotional, although there are some physical/physiological health benefits, too.
I have a relatively strong-but-long-ago background in neurology, so naturally, I clamped onto this with interest. I don’t, however, have a very strong interest in classical music, per se. I do have a moderate interest, but I’m rather selective about whether or not I’m in the mood for it, and which pieces I listen to when I am.
The potential classical music benefits are for everyone, including those on and off the Asperger’s/autism spectrum. However, given the unbalanced proportion of neurotypical people to Asperger’s/autistic people, these articles (unfortunately) don’t often consider how this information could be specifically applied to us. Most conventionally-minded medical, psychological, and psychiatric providers don’t usually consider these kinds of potential “low-tech” interventions, either; their schooling focuses heavily on behavioral and pharmaceutical interventions. I’m not saying there’s not a time and place for some of that, but it’s unfortunate that these “low-tech” strategies are almost completely overlooked, while practitioners jump straight to talk therapies and drugs almost exclusively.
What impressed me the most about the article is that the authors linked almost every single health benefit mentioned to its supporting scientific research. And yes–the benefits of listening to music have been well-documented (link to PubMed search at the bottom of this post) by the scientific research community . That’s super-exciting and extremely encouraging to me, since music itself is a primary interest/focus area (“special interest”).
[A few words of caution before I go much further: This post isn’t intended to serve as medical advice or as a substitute for the one-to-one guidance/advice of a licensed practitioner. This information is intended for educational purposes only.]
OK, moving on… 🙂
For my fellow visual learners, here is the infographic from the article:
[In the interest of accessibility, the graphic contains the following nuts and bolts (note: not full text): 10 Surprising Benefits of Listening To Classical Music (listed from left to right, and top to bottom):
- Decreases blood pressure
- Fights depression
- Boost memory
- Relieves pain
- Sparks creativity
- Puts you to sleep
- Reduces stress levels
- Makes you happy
- Supercharges brain power
- Improves productivity]
(Since this is a Mental Health-related post, I’m only going to dive into the benefits listed that pertain to mental health, and for the sake of efficiency, I’ll probably group related items together.)
In this post, I’ll examine these items from an Aspergian/autistic perspective.
If classical music does indeed fight depression (and the site housing the main article cites evidence that it does), then this could be especially helpful to those of us on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum. After all, the prevalence of depression is much higher in people on the spectrum , with suicide rates of ten times that of the neurotypical population .
Although depression hasn’t been systematically studied in Aspergian/autistic adults  (and why the hell not??), the vast majority of the Asperger’s/autistic adults I’ve interacted with (including myself) have experienced bouts of depression, if not chronic, pervasive depression.
The reasons for the depression are numerous (ranging from childhood pain, to nutrient deficiencies, to difficulty making friends, to being chronically misunderstood and outcast in a world not built according to our specs, and so on), and it’s unlikely that listening to classical music would erase or negate all of our problems, but imagine if such a simple activity could at least lighten our load, lift up the weight of the world a little, or gently nudge our state of mind toward sunnier skies.
Would that be cool, or what?
Memory Boost (with a hint of the Stress Relief aspect):
Many of us are praised for our long-term memories. When someone says it to me, always comes as a surprise to me. On one hand, I simply do what I do, like anyone else. I remember things. This was especially true for me as a child; I remembered everything–my friends’ siblings’ names and ages, their personalities, even what their bedrooms looked like. I remember tests I took and classmates’ names in my first year of kindergarten nearly 35 years ago. My mind has been likened to a “steel trap”, and people were always envious.
If only they could see me now…
Just today, I left my credit card behind in a store. I kid you not. All of my usual fail-safe routines and double-checks fell through. I realized it right away, of course, and I went back to retrieve it pronto, but the fact is, my mind isn’t quite so sharp anymore. And after talking with many a person on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, I know I’m not alone.
The underlying drivers of this, too, are many. Adrenal stress hormones circulating around the blood, knocking out the hippocampus, the holding tanks of short-term memories before they’re encoded into long-term ones? Yep, check. Inflammation in the brain caused by years of undiagnosed Celiac Disease? Yep, got that, too. Nutrient insufficiency, too long a to-do list, too long a workday? Check, check, check. I’m batting a thousand.
It’s no secret that a lot of us are more prone to stress. Every time we interact with someone, leave our homes, run seemingly “simple” errands like buying groceries or going to work, navigate our way through crowds, endure prolonged noise or other environmental stimuli, or are forced to (eeeek!) make a phone call, we are thrust under huge amounts of stress–probably (much) more than we realize.
Could listening to Bach or Mozart lessen that stress at all and thus, improve out memory?
A book published a long time ago called “The Mozart Effect” discussed the significant positive impact of classical music listening on memory . So, this is old news, but it still holds true. My mom, with a strong background in Psychology (and a Masters of Science degree in it to boot) advocated I listen to classical music while studying to retain information better. Back then, I was a rebellious teen, and thought classical music was too “mushy”, so I never took her advice. Shame on me; I probably would have done better in school if I had. Live and learn, I guess.
Although some of us on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum are hypo (less) sensitive to pain, most of us run on the hypersensitive side. We might be battling pain syndromes, or we might simply be more sensitive to pain in general because of our turned-up nervous systems. We might merely be among the millions who have Magnesium deficiencies or neurotransmitter imbalances; it happens–a lot.
Whatever the case may be, it’s not fun. Piping Beethoven through one’s earbuds for a few minutes probably won’t have the same effect as taking an aspirin, but putting those earbuds on for, say, 30 minutes a day while taking some You Time might reduce the number of times in a month that you have to reach for that aspirin.
Music, especially that without a consistent beat or rhythm, like classical or New Age music, can allow your mind to drift a little. The beat in rhythmic music keeps the brain anchored, whereas the beatless music lifts that anchor.
Why is this? According to some of the more Functional (read: clinically applicable; relating to the functions of the body) Neurology courses I’ve taken in the past, listening to the rhythmic music stimulates the Left Hemisphere, which has dominion over logic, math, science, and, technology. Music without a beat, on the other hand, stimulates the Right Hemisphere, which spurs creative efforts like writing, painting, and so on–even creative ideas involving activities that fall more into “Left-Brain” territory.
Many, many of us are indeed creative. Sometimes this is obvious; we’re into music, art, writing, sculpting, other crafts, or something else.
Other times, our creativity might be more subtle, unrecognized, or latent. We might be going through a dry spell, or maybe we don’t realize just how creative we are in the first place.
Listening to music without a rhythm might not be quite the same as having a creative muse sitting on your shoulder, whispering in your ear. But some swear by cueing up a classical playlist while in their art/clay studio or in their craft work area. It can facilitate inspiration.
Or maybe they’ll listen to it while on an early morning or late-night walk. Either way, when made a semi-regular custom, music-listening can boost overall creativity.
Even music without a beat can synchronize the commonly-experienced chaos and disorder. When we’re relaxed, this frees up our brains for more creative activity, because we’re not having to fight for survival (whether the fight is real or imagined/perceived) all the time.
It might or might not work to have Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” (a fairly lively piece) blasting out of your sound system as you try to drift off at night, but I have indeed experienced times when I’ve been working at my desktop computer in the afternoon, with some mellow music on, and before I know it, I’m nodding off in a blissful afternoon nap.
You might not even have to have the music on at the time you’re going to sleep; maybe listening for a few hours before bed, or perhaps having it playing in the background throughout the workday at work or at home can help reset the brain enough to sleep better that night. It probably comes down to that whole “stress relief” aspect.
Stress Relief, Happiness, and Increased Productivity:
Speaking of… Music, in general, can be a ginormous stress-reliever. Whether you’re belting out the words (of, say, popular music) or just playing some in the background, it can reduce stress, add pleasure, and make (almost) whatever activity you’re engaged (or trying to engage) in at the time a little (or a lot) more fun.
The “fun” can come from the simple pleasure of listening to the music itself. Or, if there’s a beat involved (and yes, I know this post focuses specifically on classical music, which isn’t exactly known for its drum kit or electronic pulse 😉 ), performing the task at hand to the beat of the music, while its beat keeps your momentum and focus, can be incredibly helpful. And even when there is no beat (such as is usually the case with classical music), there’s still something about its effect on brainwaves.
Something about music can help us focus, draw inward, and center in a grounding and comforting way. Something about music can help us release emotions, clean out old residual debris, and stimulate our minds in a healthy way that helps us think more clearly and organize our lives in an orderly way. This alone can help reduce stress.
For people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum (myself included), I suspect that a lot of our stress comes from disordered thoughts, random remembering of pending obligations, trying to keep dates and schedules straight in our heads, and just about anything else. So when music enters the picture, stimulating a more orderly thought-pattern, some of that chaos falls into a logical sequence of its own, thus reducing the stress attached to it. At least, that’s the way I see it.
This, in turn, makes us happy! And of course, more productive.
A Final Note (no pun intended, but if you laugh or smile, then that’s awesome): 😉
Classical music is probably not the only way to get these jobs done (read: to bring about the benefits described above), but it’s certainly an amazing route to take. Some of the benefits listed above may (or may not) only be achieved with classical music, because of the way its specific qualities impact the brain and its brainwaves. In fact, the reality might be that only certain pieces from certain composers will actually work as described. The scientific research on this topic is sparse, but it is growing. More studies are being conducted and published daily. The issue is far from closed, and a verdict has been anything but rendered. But we have collected enough information and evidence to be able to say that there are some really encouraging findings that may bring about some excellent mental–and maybe even physical–health benefits! ❤
Image Source: “The 10 Shocking Benefits of Listening To Classical Music [Infographic]” from TakeLessons.com.
1 – “10 Shocking Benefits of Listening To Classical Music” ~ Take Lessons
2 – “Classical+music+effects” ~ PubMed search results (as of 30 March 2017)
3 – Conditions Comorbid to Autism Spectrum Disorders ~ Wiki (while I don’t like the word choices of “comorbid” or “disorders”, it’s a decent Wiki section)
4 – Suicidal Thoughts 10 Times More Likely In Adults With Asperger’s ~ Psych Central (an OK site, not the same as Psychology Today, the semi-sensationalist trade magazine)
5 – The Mozart Effect ~ from Wiki
6 – Update! Music & Autism ~ TakeLessons.com kindly asked if I could share this article from their site, which is a really good article! It holds true for adults on the spectrum, too 🙂
Shapeshifting ~ Part 2 ~ November 19, 2016
Lost, and How Music Saved (Saves) Me ~ January 7, 2017