We’ve started to hear a lot of conversations about blending social data with other research methods. This can seem like a daunting task when you’re unsure of where social intelligence can play an accompanying role in your research. This article was written by the Sania Haq from AudienceNet. The article is about research that was undertaken to explore music and mental health. The research was conducted using traditional research methods. We think you’ll enjoy the read, and our call to you, our social intelligence community, is to respond to where you think social media research can add another dimension to the study.
Over to Sania…
Music’s Ability to Facilitate Positive Mental Health and Wellbeing
Being at AudienceNet and getting to work on music research has certainly gained me a lot of cool points from friends and family! Sadly, no matter how cool I think my social research projects are, others often don’t seem to agree.😆
While the work itself is hugely interesting, me being me, it’s the power music has to positively impact society that perhaps excites me most. There are, of course, many ways this happens, but lately, I have been especially interested in music’s ability to facilitate positive mental health and wellbeing.
Personally, this is something I have always believed in and experienced. Growing up, my music library was filled with songs that helped guide me through almost all of life’s challenges. From Destiny’s Child laying out the steps to follow in order to become an independent woman, countless pearls of wisdom from Mariah about heartbreak, vibrant Bollywood tracks reminding me to celebrate life, and classical Indian songs keeping me calm, listening to music was my go-to solution for almost everything. Even today, my library of “useful” songs is ever expanding, with tracks such as Ariana’s very helpful reminder to “Just keep breathin”. 😅
I suppose my love for music becomes ever more apparent on those dreaded occasions where I realise I have forgotten my headphones at home. Of course, going through the day without them is never an option, so I am faced with either going back home or taking a detour to buy some new ones along the way.
While I was previously conscious that my love for music might be considered slightly extreme or strange, thankfully our research highlights that it plays a similar role in the lives of many others.
This first started to surface during our bespoke work in the UK and international markets (including the US, Nigeria, South Africa, China and India), where participants often likened music to a best friend that helps them navigate day-to-day life. Intrigued and encouraged by these insights, we decided to investigate them further, ahead of being part of the “Music for Good” segment at the Future Music Forum in Barcelona this past summer.
Our investigation looked into if/how individuals use music to help them manage day-to-day life. Importantly, our focus was not on music’s impact on managing longer-term clinical mental health conditions such as bipolar, depression or anxiety, but on how it is used to help alleviate acute or immediate feelings of stress and/or anxiety. Fieldwork took place in September 2019, among a representative sample of the UK adult population (aged 16+). Data was collected via an online survey (N=3011).
Firstly, the research highlighted that feeling stressed and/or anxious is a frequent occurrence for many. Just 8% reported never experiencing such feelings. One in five (19%) said they feel stressed and/or anxious daily, and over half (57%) at least weekly.
Results on factors that contribute to stress and/or anxiety provide some insight into why such feelings are perhaps so frequent. The four most commonly mentioned contributors are universal factors that most people cannot escape and, furthermore, often interact with on a daily basis. For a quarter (28%), concerns around mental health itself are a contributing factor.
Encouragingly, when asked what they do to help reduce feelings of stress and/or anxiety, most had strategies in place. Just 6% stated that they do not do anything.
While we had hypothesized that music would perform well, results surpassed even our own expectations. Music was not only the most commonly used tool out of the 18 tested, but was ahead of the others by some margin (approximately 20%).
● Overall, 60% said they use music to help reduce feelings of stress and/or anxiety.
● Half (48%) selected music within their Top 3 tools.
● A quarter (23%) selected music as their Top1 tool.
Looking at results across the full set of (18) tools tested, there are a number of encouraging stories for mental health and wellbeing management more generally:
- Approaches that facilitate escapism and the release of endorphins are amongst the most commonly used:
● Listen to music (60%).
● Watching TV shows/films was the second most commonly used method overall (41%).
● A third (33%) read a book.
● Just under a third (30%) exercise.
Loved ones can play an important role:
● 34% said talking to family helps.
● Talking to family was the second most commonly select Top tool (11%).
● A34% said talking to friends helps.
- Overall, the top tools are relatively accessible to most:
● Many ca be completed alone thus giving individuals more control over their own mental health.
● Many can be completed for little or no cost thus reducing barriers to use.
Why is Music Used?
To better understand the effect of music, those who use it to help reduce feelings of stress and/or anxiety were asked more specifically about how it benefits them.
Overall, the most common benefit, by some way, emerged as mood enhancement. Almost all (94%) agreed that “Music helps to lift my mood when I am feeling down”, with half (48%) doing so strongly.
Sense of Escapism
A sense of escapism was the second most commonly identified benefit, with 86% agreeing that “Listening to music helps me escape and forget my stresses and problems”.
- Around three quarters indicated that music increases their resilience, by making them feel more motivated to address their challenges and/or at least preventing them from feeling worse.
- Around two thirds said that music helps to boost their general sense of self-confidence, and/or their ability to manage feelings of stress and/or anxiety.
Hear Other People’s Stories
- For over half, being able to hear other people’s stories gives them courage. This was notably higher among younger age groups (16-34 year olds).
“’It takes you away from the real world for a bit – you can just close your eyes and focus on the music and nothing else :).”
“It lets me close my eyes and escape to a happy place, which in turn helps me to calm and feel less stressed and anxious.”
“Music just seems to soothe me and help me feel less stressed as it can bring back wonderful memories.”
“It helps me to just accept feelings, roll with them and embrace them.”
“Music helps me step back from the world around me and take a breather. It’s usually a song that is a slow pace to relax me. Also it helps if the lyrics are relatable – I feel less alone in my anxieties. I never leave the house without headphones.”
“To be honest it’s not a feeling I can really explain, I just don’t know how to put it into words. But it makes me feel confident and as though I can make it and my problems will find a solution. It calms me down and reduces my nerves and stops me from thinking negatively.”
How is Music Used?
When asked more about what they listen to when wanting to reduce feelings of stress and/or anxiety, it becomes apparent that the process is carefully curated. Not all music seems to do the trick. Listeners tend to gravitate towards their favourite songs and artists over more generic types of music (e.g. inspirational songs, upbeat tracks, motivational playlists etc.).
Hopes for the Future
Our hope is that this research helps to raise awareness about the powerful role music can play in helping people manage day-to-day stresses and anxieties.
The process is, of course, very personal, therefore we cannot suggest a combination of songs or artists that will have a universal impact. However, hopefully, these findings, among other research on music and mental and health, will encourage more people to turn to music.
We look forward to sharing more on this topic in the near future, both from our UK research and studies in other markets (including the US and India).
About the author:
Sania Haq, Head of Research at AudienceNet.
Sania is a mixed-method researcher with 9 years of experience in the industry. She works with clients across a broad range of sectors, including music, entertainment, technology, government and charity/NGO. Sania is especially passionate about the positive social impact commercial organisations can have on society. You can connect with Sania on LinkedIn.
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