Life

The psychology of singing: why music is the perfect antidote to coronavirus anxiety

From balconies in Italy to kitchens in the UK, people all over the world are taking up singing as a way to feel more connected during the coronavirus pandemic. But what is it that makes singing such a brilliant tool in this difficult time? Stylist investigates.

If you’ve been on social media over the last couple of weeks, chances are you’ll have seen the viral videos of Italians singing together from their balconies. Since the country went into lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus outbreak on 9 March, whole neighbourhoods of people have come together to fill the silence of the streets with music. From Bologna to Rome, the “Flash Mob Sonoro” or sound flash mob has encouraged people to pick up whatever they have lying around the house – from a pot and wooden spoon to a traditional instrument – and come together to create music and sing.

Just a few weeks later, the trend started by the Italian people has spread all around the world. From Dallas to Belgium, people are coming together via music, using the power of singing to connect in this time of isolation.

It’s no surprise that, in a time when we’re all feeling a little bit scared and uncertain, we’re turning to singing to make ourselves feel better. After all, studies have repeatedly shown that singing has the power to boost our mood, and even has the power to raise our pain thresholds. 

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“Singing is a mindful activity,” explains Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic. “When we sing, we are engaging fully in the moment. This can help to distract us from other more negative emotions, and therefore positively influence our mood.”

Singing also has the power to release neurotransmitters in the brain associated with a positive mood. “The activity of singing encourages the release of endorphins and dopamine in the brain,” explains Charlotte Armitage, a media and business psychologist at YAFTA. “Both of these are neurotransmitters which are responsible for helping us to experience pleasure and enjoyment.

“Studies have also found that the amounts of cortisol in saliva reduce after we participate in singing – cortisol is a stress hormone, and therefore less cortisol results in lowered feelings of stress and anxiety.”

A woman singing on her own
Singing has the potential to foster community even when we’re apart.

For many people, it probably won’t come as much of a surprise that singing has the potential to bring down our stress levels. If you’ve ever come home from work, poured yourself a glass of wine and switched on the musicals playlist for a good old sing-a-long, you’ll know what we’re talking about.

It’s not just the mood boosting benefits of singing which are fuelling the rise of communal singing movements in the coronavirus period, however: music has a long history of bringing people together and promoting a sense of community, from the songs sung in factories during WW2 to the role music played in bringing women together during the Suffragette Movement.

Indeed, studies have also repeatedly proven that singing can make us feel closer together – a 2016 study found that singing with other people – even in large groups when people don’t know each other well – promotes social bonding. 

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“Singing in groups [compared to singing on our own] has even more beneficial effects because of the social interaction which comes with it, which results in feelings of togetherness,” Armitage explains. “This reduces the feelings of isolation which people might currently be experiencing.”

It’s clear that singing is a fantastic way to boost mood and foster a sense of community, so it’s no surprise that the trend which started in Italy has spread all over the world. Indeed, across the UK, a number of online projects have been launched to allow people to sing with others despite the lockdown.

One of these projects – which launched on 23 March – is Lifefulness Live, which aims to get people all over the country singing in unison during the coronavirus outbreak. Inspired by the videos of people singing together in Italy, the project consists of a daily livestream led by a different performer every day, and aims to break the world record for the number of people taking part in a singalong: 293,978. 

Speaking to Stylist about Lifefulness Live, the project’s founder Sanderson Jones said he was hoping to see as many people as possible come together, even though they’re physically apart.

Sanderson Jones
Sanderson Jones hopes Lifefulness Live will help people to come together in this difficult time.

“When I started to think about the things that this situation really called for, I recognised that one is that sense of togetherness,” he explains. “We often talk about the world, but this really is something that affects the whole world. This is about trying to create a moment of joy in people’s days, a moment of togetherness

“It’s just great to have people singing together because it gives people that sense of being transformed. This whole situation is so sort of complicated and uncertain, and if we can do our part to go and create more of a community and direct people to the activities which are good to do, that would be great, because that community is going to be what gets us through this.”

To take part in Lifefulness Live, all you need to do is join the live stream on their Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube at 5pm GMT (2pm ET and 9am PT). To find out more information, you can check out their website here.

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