Sunday, April 17, 2016

Depression Survival: I'm In The Mood For Music

I’m In The Mood For Music

“Your brain lights up like a Christmas Tree when you listen to music.”
Kimberly Sena Moore
Neurologic Music Therapist

There are three factors that differentiate depression from normal feelings of sadness or pessimism. They are the duration, severity and symptoms. If they last longer than two weeks one might want to consult with a physician. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 9.5% of Americans experience mood disorders like depression and bipolar moods. 18.1% experience anxiety.

I fall into both of those categories and have since a child. My book, “The Shade Tree Choir” tells a story of an eight-year old boy physically and emotionally abused by his alcoholic parents and mentally ill mother. The abuse continued until he left home at age seventeen. That child used to stop and vomit when he saw his dad’s car parked in front of the house when he ran home to make it into the door in time for supper. That boy lived in a constant state of readiness wondering when the next slap, kick or punch might come his way. That boy learned a raw definition of anxiety, stress, sadness and depression. I was that boy. I’ve been a high-functioning member of society despite being clinically depressed.

My childhood and subsequent training as a physical therapist give credence to my blog. For many years I taught professionals and the general community throughout Florida about stress management. The techniques I used were explained in my book, “Stress Management: Does Anyone in Chicago Know About it.” That book is now out of print, but I continue to follow my own advice given so long ago.

In my book I reported about a study performed by the U. of California that compared physiological changes that occur because of our moods. Clinicians divided drama students into two groups. Blood levels of “happy and sad” hormones were tested in each group prior to the activity. Each drama student was then told to go away and play a part. Some played the role of a “Happy Oh” and the other half played a “Sad Oh.” 

The “Happy Oh” exaggerated happiness. Arms were extended, smiles were stretched across their faces, posture was erect and the danced and played. The “Sad Oh” people had collapsed posture, withdrawn, rolled into a ball and frowned faces. All returned after a set time limit and blood was once again tested. The results were elevated dopamine and serotonin levels increased in the “Happy Oh” participants. These are known as “happy hormones.” The test was done several times to be certain of validity.

The result of the study was that the body reacts to the costume we wear. I say to you, if you are feeling down – fake it. Pretend to be happy. If you are feeling sad – fake it. Pretend to be in a good mood. Eventually your negative feelings will be replaced with positive ones. Did you know your mood is contagious? Yep, it is. Did you know that the older we get, the more we tend to accentuate the positive? One exercise you might try on the way to work is to pretend you are a “Happy Oh” and exaggerate your positive feelings. Your mood may change and co-workers might enjoy being around you. Change your costume.

Another exercise to try when you’re down is to sing. Yes, singing alone has been shown to increase another “happy hormone” called oxytocin. Singing in a group has proven to make people happier because vibrations are sent throughout the body that lower cortisol levels (a stress hormone) and increases endorphins (hormone that makes us feel content). Be sure to read my previous blog about the negative impact that cortisol has on the body.

As a footnote, I don’t think I would recommend listening and singing, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by the great George Jones if you just broke up with someone. Pick a happy tune.

Listening to some music has been shown to lower the levels of cortisol, reduce pain and improve positive emotions. Listening to songs popular in your youth can be nostalgic and maybe bring back happier times for you and change your mood. Mozart has been a proven choice for me when I want to lighten my load.

Learning to play a musical instrument can sharpen memory and protect the mind from ravages of old age. You are never too old to learn new tricks and techniques. Several years ago I could not read music nor play an instrument. I took five lessons to play my alto sax. My passion led me to use this new activity to combat the blues of depression. One of my patients at the time was the Maestro for a local symphony. He told me to slow down the tempo and I could play any song I wanted and then gradually I would improve. It worked. There are now fewer dogs howling down the gravel road where I live when I play my sax. I guess I’m getting better.

Here is a link to a video on You Tube that will show you the benefit music has with a patient who has dementia. Please take six minutes to watch this jaw-dropping video.

Next time you are feeling depressed or anxious, try singing, listening to music or learn to play an instrument. Change your costume and you will change your mood.

Please like, share and comment on my blog.

“The Shade Tree Choir”


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