Sing More, Feel Better (Part One)
Written by: Enya Lim | SRMC Lecturer
Ever gleefully belt along to Bruno Mars while cruising in the car, or hummed a soothing familiar tune to help calm your nerves during an anxious moment? Such spontaneous singing windows are testament to the subconscious positive correlation between singing and mental health. Is anecdotal experience enough though, to assert that singing is indeed a mind and mood booster? Dedicated studies certainly seem to agree:
According to research assembled by the Voice Study Center for Mental Health Week 2021, participation in music and or singing activity promotes aspects of wellbeing and results in a reduction of the stress hormone cortisol (Fancourt/ Perkins et al 2020, Bongard et al, 2004; Fancourt et al, 2016). It follows logically then, that singing can regulate breathing and heart rate, having a direct impact on the automatic nervous system (Vickhoff et al, 2013). Further, participatory music supports mental health through a number of pathways, including managing and expressing emotions, facilitating self development, providing respite, and facilitating [positive social] connections (Perkins et al, 2020).
Supporting these findings is professor Sarah Wilson from the school of psychological sciences at the University of Melbourne, who explains that “[Singing activates] motor networks, auditory or listening networks, planning and organizational networks, memory networks, language networks—if we’re singing with words—and also emotional networks.”
She goes on to elaborate how “The complexity of singing is striking for the brain, even though to us it feels like a relatively easy process. What is remarkable about singing is that in the act of doing it, we activate our reward network. These emotions lead to the release of dopamine… which is the ‘feel good’ chemical for the brain… so if you like, singing is a form of natural therapy. It lifts our mood, it releases dopamine, and it gives all those networks a workout—bringing neuro-protective benefits for our mental health.’ Wilson posits that the benefits of singing can in fact be triggered not only by the act of singing itself, but also by merely thinking about singing. So if you don’t feel comfortable bursting into song on the MRT, even thinking about it instead might help.
 As well as activating a range of networks associated with movement, listening, planning, memory, and language, singing triggers the release of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine.
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