In this article we’ll take a closer look at how singing can benefit your physical and mental health, and how to use signing as a form of therapy
In fact, there’s solid scientific evidence to prove that singing is, in fact, good for your body and your mind.
People love to sing. Whether or not they can carry a tune, people seem to understand that there’s something positive — something healthy — in the act of raising their voices in song.
Decades of research has shown that singing individually and in groups is good for you on many levels.
Here, according to science, are 10 key benefits of raising your voice in song.
1. Relieves stress
Singing appears to be a stress-reliever. A 2017 study measured the amount of cortisol, the stress hormone, in participant’s saliva before and after they sang.
Researchers in that study found that the amount of cortisol was lower after singing, an indication that people felt more relaxed after they’d belted out a tune.
They also found singing reduces stress levels whether the participants were singing in a group or by themselves.
There’s a small catch, though: Cortisol only goes down if you’re singing in a place that doesn’t make you anxious. A similar 2015 study tested salivary cortisol levels after a singing performance, finding that cortisol levels went up in this scenario.
2. Stimulates the immune response
There’s some evidence that singing may boost your immune system and help you fight off illnesses.
A 2004 study compared the effects of singing with the effects of simply listening to music. In two separate sessions, research subjects either sang or listened to music.
Those who sang showed higher levels of immunoglobulin A, an antibody your body secretes to help you fend off infections. Listening to music (without singing along) reduced stress hormones but didn’t stimulate the body’s immune system.
3. Increases pain threshold
When you sing in a group, whether it’s a large choir or a smaller group, the act of collective singing causes your body to release endorphins. This hormone can help promote positive feelings, and even change your perception of pain.
A 2012 study found that singing, drumming, and dancing in a group triggers the release of hormones that raise your pain tolerance in ways that just listening to music doesn’t.
Researchers note that the feelings of social connection, rather than the music itself, seems to be behind the boost in pain tolerance.
4. May improve snoring
Regular singing may change the way you breathe, even when you’re not singing. Researchers in a 2008 study interviewed the spouses of choir members, along with the spouses of people who don’t sing.
The researchers found that significantly fewer choir members snored. This led them to recommend regular singing as a potential treatment for snoring.
Studies have also shown that people who play wind instruments also snore less than the general population.
These findings have prompted some experts to suggest that singing and playing wind instruments might be helpful for people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
5. Improves lung function
Because singing involves deep breathing and the controlled use of muscles in the respiratory system, it may be beneficial for certain lung and breathing conditions.
Studies have shown that the breathing techniques used with singing may offer benefits for people with the following conditions:
While singing doesn’t treat or cure any of these conditions, you may benefit from gaining strength in your respiratory muscles.
Singing also increases the amount of oxygen in your blood, research shows. In addition to the pulmonary benefits, singers also experience improved mood and a greater sense of social connection.
6. Develops a sense of belonging and connection
When you sing together with others, you’re likely to feel the same kind of camaraderie and bonding that players on sports teams experience.
In one 2014 study involving 11,258 schoolchildren, researchers found that children in a singing and musical engagement program developed a strong sense of community and social inclusion.
In a 2016 study involving 375 adult participants, researchers found that people who sang together in a group reported a higher sense of wellbeing and meaningful connection than people who sang solo.
One of the neurochemicals released when people feel bonded together is oxytocin, also known as the love hormone.
Spontaneous, improvised singing causes your body to release this feel-good hormone, which may help give you a heightened sense of connectedness and inclusion.
7. Enhances memory in people with dementia
People with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia experience a gradual loss of memory. Studies have shown that people with these conditions were able to recall song lyrics more easily than other words.
In one singing study by the Alzheimer’s Foundation, participants said it was “nice to be able to remember something.”
However, the singers found they remembered more than just the lyrics. For some, singing familiar songs suddenly brought back life memories they’d forgotten, too.
Researchers found that singing songs learned at a younger age caused a spontaneous return of autobiographical details for many people.
8. Helps with grief
Singing in a group doesn’t just help you with physical pain; it may also help with the emotional pain you feel after you’ve lost someone you love.
In a 2019 study conducted among people dealing with grief, researchers found that for those who sang in a choir, depression symptoms didn’t get worse over time and their sense of wellbeing remained stable.
In fact, the choir singers felt a gradual improvement in their self-esteem during and after the 12-week study. Those in the control group who didn’t participate in the singing intervention didn’t report this benefit.
Researchers concluded that group singing may be a good option for people who need additional support during a time of grief.
9. Improves mental health and mood
A 2018 study done in the United Kingdom evaluated 20 people in a singing program known as The Sing Your Heart Out project. The participants included people with mental health conditions, as well as the general public.
Researchers found that the participants reported improvements in their mental health, mood, sense of well-being, and feeling of belonging as a result of these singing workshops.
10. Helps improve speaking abilities
Decades ago, scientists began researching the effects of singing among people who have a hard time with speech due to a neurological condition.
To date, researchers have found that singing improves the speaking ability for people with:
Singing stimulates multiple areas of the brain at the same time. This may enable people with an impairment in one part of the brain to communicate using other areas of their brain.
Singing can also prolong the sounds in each word, which may make it easier to pronounce them.
Singing also makes it easier to incorporate hand-tapping, a method that can help people maintain speaking rhythms that are otherwise challenging.
Can you sing safely in the era of COVID-19?
Because SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, is known to spread through respiratory particles, public health officials have cautioned against events where people sing collectively.
Researchers are currently advising organizers to keep rehearsals short, small, and ideally, remote. Larger, longer events are likely to be problematic for now.
Using masks, outdoor venues, and physical distancing may help, but are not a guarantee that the virus causing COVID-19 won’t spread when people meet to sing in person.
Research on this relatively new phenomenon is being continually updated.
During a morning shift change at St Marcy Mercy Livonia Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, the medical staff were feeling weary. Their surgical floor had been converted into a department for coronavirus patients and spirits were low.
Nurse Lori Marie Key was asked if she would sing Amazing Grace for her colleagues during the morning briefing. So she did. As her voice soared, one of her fellow nurses filmed her, put it online and it went viral.
There was something about the solidarity and togetherness of that moment that personifies a lot about the power of song. But it wasn’t just something abstract and ethereal happening, there are scientific reasons for why singing feels good.
You might also like:
• How happy music can make you do bad things
• Why music has the power to make us cry
• What will music be like in 20 years?
Perhaps that’s why, as most of the world went into lockdown to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, there were countless examples of people turning to song as solace. Italians belted arias from their balconies, famous musicians performed mini concerts from their living rooms and choirs took their sessions online to become virtual virtuosos.
What is stress?
Stress is a normal human reaction that happens to everyone. In fact, the human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. When you experience changes or challenges (stressors), your body produces physical and mental responses. That’s stress.
Stress responses help your body adjust to new situations. Stress can be positive, keeping us alert, motivated and ready to avoid danger. For example, if you have an important test coming up, a stress response might help your body work harder and stay awake longer. But stress becomes a problem when stressors continue without relief or periods of relaxation.
What happens to the body during stress?
The body’s autonomic nervous system controls your heart rate, breathing, vision changes and more. Its built-in stress response, the “fight-or-flight response,” helps the body face stressful situations.
When a person has long-term (chronic) stress, continued activation of the stress response causes wear and tear on the body. Physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms develop.
Physical symptoms of stress include:
- Aches and pains.
- Chest pain or a feeling like your heart is racing.
- Exhaustion or trouble sleeping.
- Headaches, dizziness or shaking.
- High blood pressure.
- Muscle tension or jaw clenching.
- Stomach or digestive problems.
- Trouble having sex.
- Weak immune system.
Stress can lead to emotional and mental symptoms like:
- Anxiety or irritability.
- Panic attacks.
Often, people with chronic stress try to manage it with unhealthy behaviors, including:
- Drinking alcohol too much or too often.
- Overeating or developing an eating disorder.
- Participating compulsively in sex, shopping or internet browsing.
- Using drugs.
How is stress diagnosed?
Stress is subjective — not measurable with tests. Only the person experiencing it can determine whether it’s present and how severe it feels. A healthcare provider may use questionnaires to understand your stress and how it affects your life.
If you have chronic stress, your healthcare provider can evaluate symptoms that result from stress. For example, high blood pressure can be diagnosed and treated.
What are some strategies for stress relief?
You can’t avoid stress, but you can stop it from becoming overwhelming by practicing some daily strategies:
- Exercise when you feel symptoms of stress coming on. Even a short walk can boost your mood.
- At the end of each day, take a moment to think about what you’ve accomplished — not what you didn’t get done.
- Set goals for your day, week and month. Narrowing your view will help you feel more in control of the moment and long-term tasks.
- Consider talking to a therapist or your healthcare provider about your worries.
What are some ways to prevent stress?
Many daily strategies can help you keep stress at bay:
- Try relaxation activities, such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, breathing exercises and muscle relaxation. Programs are available online, in smartphone apps, and at many gyms and community centers.
- Take good care of your body each day. Eating right, exercising and getting enough sleep help your body handle stress much better.
- Stay positive and practice gratitude, acknowledging the good parts of your day or life.
- Accept that you can’t control everything. Find ways to let go of worry about situations you cannot change.
- Learn to say “no” to additional responsibilities when you are too busy or stressed.
- Stay connected with people who keep you calm, make you happy, provide emotional support and help you with practical things. A friend, family member or neighbor can become a good listener or share responsibilities so that stress doesn’t become overwhelming.
How long does stress last?
Stress can be a short-term issue or a long-term problem, depending on what changes in your life. Regularly using stress management techniques can help you avoid most physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms of stress.
When should I talk to a doctor about stress?
You should seek medical attention if you feel overwhelmed, if you are using drugs or alcohol to cope, or if you have thoughts about hurting yourself. Your primary care provider can help by offering advice, prescribing medicine or referring you to a therapist.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
It’s natural and normal to be stressed sometimes. But long-term stress can cause physical symptoms, emotional symptoms and unhealthy behaviors. Try relieving and managing stress using a few simple strategies. But if you feel overwhelmed, talk to your doctor.