Singing Lifts Spirit for Free

With areas only partially open and most Americans still needing to keep their distance. It’s easy to feel alone. And we’ve run out of things to watch on Netflix. We need entertainment and something to boost our mood. But, we can actually improve our own mood using our own voices. Singing, even by yourself, can raise your mood.

The rush of good feelings you experience when hearing your favorite song is familiar to all of us. That might be why videos of people singing on their balconies went viral so quickly. It was fun and showed community spirit. Musicians have been live streaming concerts from their living rooms.

But singing yourself is even better. Not only does it occupy time, it also helps you take deep breaths and activates “feel good” chemicals in your brain. Finding ways to breathe deeply and feel great is excellent during these trying times. It also increases blood flow and increases mental alertness. It aids concentration and memory to the extent that the Alzheimer’s Society has a “Singing for the Brain” program. It also increases the strength of your palate muscles and throat, helping you breathe better in your sleep.

When we sing, our brains light up. Sarah Wilson, a clinical neuropsychologist, led research using MRI scans to determine what happens in the brain when people sing. Regardless of skill, our brains all react positively. When we speak, the hemisphere of the brain dealing with language lights up. But, when we sing, both sides of the brain light up.

We also see involvement of the emotion networks of the brain,” said Dr. Wilson. Regions that control the movements we need to produce sounds and articulation are also activated.

Dr. Wilson said that singing is “fundamental to our biological makeup… We are in a pandemic and what do we do? We go back to these roots of [the] innate things that bring us connection and strength. What better way to do this than to sing across balconies?

Singing is a physical activity that releases the same endorphins as aerobic exercise. “Endorphins [are] related to an overall lifted feeling of happiness, it gives a feeling of euphoria, so it’s all associated with a reduction in stress,” said Baishali Mukherjee of the World Federation of Music Therapy. “In any situation, whether it is under stress or [with] any physical ailments, illness, psychological deprivation, music has the potential to affect our body and mind.”

Singing in a group feels better because it’s a shared activity. Because of that, some choirs are moving online to sing together. “We just felt so together at rehearsals,” said Sophia Exiner, a member of a choir practicing together over the internet. “Getting online has highlighted what our core values are: inclusivity, community, love of music and shared experiences. We’ve realized that for a lot of that, it doesn’t require us to be in the same physical space.”

Singing can also give you a sense of accomplishment, as with any new skill. One of our team members openly says that she couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. But, over the past couple of months, she has learned most of the lyrics to the Broadway musical “Hamilton.” She has never seen the play, but all the songs are online. She said that, at first, it seemed like just a good way to kill time while alone in her apartment. Now, she enjoys singing the songs, despite her self-proclaimed lack of aptitude. It can feel good to learn something new and then practice it.

For people in Dr. Wilson’s study who never sang, not as much activity was seen outside of the language center. For people who professionally sung — and shower singers — the impact was heightened. So, if you don’t regularly sing, start doing so and building those connections. You don’t have to hit the notes or beat correctly, you don’t need to sing real songs. You can sing about loading the dishwasher or folding the laundry.
June 01, 2020
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