Depression and Singing.

Well, this is going to be a cheery post, isn’t it?

I’m not going to back away from it though – it needs addressing.  There are many things which stop you singing – and not just singing, but being creative in any form at all.  The one that I hate most is depression.  It’s not fashionable, and it’s definitely not the sort of thing that one often talks about in company, but if you catch people quietly, and in a confidential mood, you may discover that depression is a thing that happens to far more people than you realise.

I’ll put my hands up and say that I suffer from depression.  There you go.  I’ve said it.  Over the years I’ve figured out how to hide it pretty well, and most people who aren’t close to me even realise that it is a thing.  But it most definitely is.  And when I’m depressed I find it incredibly hard to create anything of any merit.  Or maybe it’s just that I think it has no merit because I’m depressed.  In actuality, I don’t much care about the “why”, I just can’t do anything.  It’s horrible and tends to lead to a downward spiral of negativity which never ends in a particularly good place.

I’m luckier than most because I run choirs.  I am forced to sing multiple times every week because otherwise I am letting people down.  And if there’s one thing that makes me feel worse than having to go out and do things whilst depressed, it’s letting other people down.  So…  I sing.  I have to sing.

And no matter how bad I feel before I go out, I can *guarantee* that I’ll feel better after I’ve sung for an hour and a half.  I can feel the depression ‘fog’ lifting, and for a not-inconsiderable amount of time, I do feel a whole lot better.  This works whether the depression is situational or just out-of-the-blue chemical.

But why?  Well, there’s significant evidence to show that when we sing or make music of any kind, our brains release dopamine.  Dopamine is the “pleasure” chemical that is released in our brains when we do something that feels good – eating chocolate, taking a hot bubble bath or falling in love.  It is the same neurotransmitter that some of the more addictive drugs can stimulate.  Singing really does make you feel high in the same way that a tiny dose of an illegal drug might do.  Added to this, the action of opening your lungs and breathing intensively will aerate your blood and make your heart pump a little faster, which will make you feel more alert and combat the tiredness which depression often triggers.  If you are singing with a group of other people in a communal setting such as a choir, then it becomes even better.  It’s been proven in scientific studies that singing in groups makes our heartbeats synchronise and gives us a feeling of belonging and self-worth that is difficult to mimic in any other way.  Singing with other people bonds you into a social group, literally, and helps to battle the isolation of depression.

The important thing to remember is that singing is only going to help if you ACTUALLY DO IT.  The cruel irony of life with depression is that it tries very hard to isolate you and stop you from doing anything at all, when going out and doing something is exactly what you need.  The urge to just stay at home in bed or on the sofa is very, very strong.  But if you can force yourself to go out and sing, it *will* help, I promise.

It’s well worth talking to your choir leader as well.  Let them know how you’re feeling, and they’ll keep an eye on you.  If there are certain songs that trigger feelings of sadness or depression, tell your choir leader, so that they can work on other things if at all possible.  Remember that this is a partnership, and it is only by working together that you’ll get all the benefits.  Let your choir leader know what’s happening with you, and let them help.

So there we go.  I get depression.  I sing.  It helps.  I hope it helps you, too…

Singing vs. Cancer?

blog-sing-for-your-health-memd-300x300I was recently passed a clipping about a fascinating study being undertaken by Tenovus Cancer Care.  They are a charity providing support to cancer patients and funding lots of different research.

One of their most recent studies involves the effects of choral singing on cancer patients.  You will be unsurprised to find out that the results are extremely positive.
We certainly expect to see lowered levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) after singing, and this is an effect that has been seen and studied in choirs all over the world, along with improved moods and lessening of depression.

What wasn’t expected, but is very welcome indeed is the elevated levels in a range of biomarkers related to immune function and inflammatory response in the body, both of which may be linked to the body’s ability to fight serious illnesses including cancer.

It is early days yet, and more research is planned, but right now, it looks like the evidence is pointing towards singing being an effective way for cancer patients to improve their mood, bond socially with other people in the same situation and actively fight the disease.  What’s not to like?

Anyone who sings with a choir will have noticed the effect on mood.  I see it week after week, particularly in the choirs that I run immediately after a work day – people come in, tired and low after a long, hard day, but as soon as we start singing – and particularly when we nail a hard bit! – the mood lifts and lifts.  By the end of 75 minutes of singing and laughing together, people leave with a smile on their faces, often singing as they go.  I swear that the best sound in the world is the sound of people singing as they leave.  They don’t *have* to be singing at this point, but are just enjoying it so much that they don’t want to stop.  It’s a sign that the choir leader has done their job well, and that the singer is carrying that joy and music forward into the rest of their week.  It’s the best thing in the world to know that 🙂

Singing is also a positive anti-depressant – so much so that many doctors are recommending patients start singing instead of increasing their reliance on drug-based solutions.  The combination of lowered cortisol, and increased endorphin and oxytocin levels means that singers feel less stressed, and happier about their general situations.

With all of these health benefits – how can you resist joining a choir?  Nobody is going to judge your voice, and you’ll make new friends as well as helping to keep your health in tip-top condition!

Oh, and you’ll sing some great songs, too – how great is that?