Singing is a Natural High
Do you ever get in the car after a stressful day at work, blast your favourite song and sing along at the top of your lungs, and instantly feel better? Or maybe you’ve found that you feel connected and bonded with a group of people after singing a campfire song, a national anthem, or “Happy Birthday” together.
There’s science behind this phenomenon. A cocktail of “happy” hormones are released through singing, according to recent research.
Singing releases endorphins, the pleasure-inducing hormone. It’s the same hormone and happy high that exercise produces. Singing also releases oxytocin, which is a hormone associated with closeness and bonding. Singing alone or in a group will chemically lessen feelings of isolation, depression and loneliness, and create a sense of belonging. Cortisol levels, which are associated with stress, are also shown to reduce from singing.
A recent study suggests that singing has evolved as an activity of human survival that nurtures togetherness. The study argues that our physiological response to singing is an evolutionary reward for engaging in social activity. Human beings need togetherness for survival, and group singing certainly gives us that feeling of togetherness.
Pleasure, togetherness, and stress-reduction. These are the three hormonal effects singing has been proven to have.
These alone area great reasons to make space for singing. But for those of us working in vulnerable caregiving sectors, this information can be critical. Depression and isolation are major concerns in most in long term care settings, complex continuing care, and among family caregivers. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, mood disorders are said to impact 20% of Canadians at some point in their lives. Stress is an obvious and concerning reality of most professional health care workers, volunteer or family caregivers, and people in the social service sectors. If singing can address all these concerns, then it makes sense to prioritize singing – and budgeting for singing activities – as a health-improving, pathology-reducing activity.
Making space for singing is a wise move for people involved in all aspects of the caring circle. If you are a caregiver, try to sing along to your favourite album on the way to work, join a choir, or sing with your care recipients from time to time. And see how creating opportunities for care receivers to sing – be it a resident living with mid-stage dementia, a youth with mental health issues, or a loved one at the end of life – can benefit their overall wellbeing. Hiring a choir conductor, implementing a sing-along program, hosting coffee-houses and songwriting circles, and inviting specialists to lead singing workshops, are just some programmatic ways we can implement singing into overall care plans in contexts where depression, isolation and stress are serious concerns.
We may not have needed science to show us that singing makes us feel better, but the science sure gives us a great excuse for singing in the car at the top of our lungs.
Sarah Pearson is a music therapist working in oncology and palliative care in Kitchener, ON . She is the Program Development Coordinator for the Room 217 Foundation and Lead Facilitator of the Music Care Certificate Program.