I'm singin' in the rain
Just singin' in the rain
What a glorious feeling
I'm happy again
It’s no shocking news that singing makes you feel better. It’s as intuitive a fact as exercise being good for your body. But what’s interesting is exactly how singing lifts your mood and what happens when you sing with other people. Or, in other words, what actually happens in your brain when you sing?
When we sing, several areas of our brain are activated: our auditory networks, obviously, but also our motor networks (think about your desire to groove to the music), organizational networks, memory networks, language networks, as well as emotional networks. But holding a tune doesn’t just exercise your brain, it does so much more.
Singing also triggers a reward response in the brain, which causes the release of four different kinds of “happy hormones” (more accurately termed neurotransmitters). These are:
• Endorphins which reduce pain, stress and bring a feeling of euphoria.
• Dopamine which increases focus, determination and causes a general sensation of joy.
• Serotonin which is crucial to our self-esteem and healthy self-image.
• Oxytocin which is important for social bonding and trust.
But singing can also tackle the physical manifestations of mental distress. Shallow breathing is among the most common reactions to stress, and one of the most effective ways to counteract it is by consciously practicing deeper breathing. But the kind of deep breathing triggered by the act of singing is actually more intuitive, and thus more effective, than yoga breathing.
On top of it all, singing allows us to vent emotions we would otherwise feel embarrassed to express, including childlike joy, sorrow, and even anger.
And all of these sensations are amplified when you’re singing with someone else. In a choir, a duet, a band or just singing the anthem, the released oxytocin causes us to feel a sense of belonging, of community, of friendship with our fellow singers. This should come as no surprise when one observes how song has served to build communities throughout the ages, be it in religious congregations, the military or the schoolyard.
And it’s not just chemistry that brings us together through song, as communal singing teaches us to cooperate, listen as a group and complement each other. And this connection is more profound than you may imagine, as people who sing together synchronize both their heartbeats and their brainwaves, as established in two separate studies.
So why don’t we sing more often? It boils down to critique, or fear thereof. Just like other art forms we all engage in as children, such as dancing and drawing, at some point we begin to feel we may not be good enough to do it, and that we should “leave it to the pros”. This fear might have been instilled in us by receiving scathing feedback to our singing once, or even by developing an appreciation for someone else’s impressive vocal capabilities and comparing ourselves unfavorably to that person.
This is why the spaces where we feel most at ease to let loose and sing are those where we feel nobody’s listening- alone in the car or while scrubbing down in the shower. One way to circumvent our social angst about our vocal performance is to sing in a choir, where it isn’t an individual’s technique and mastery that matters, but the group’s ability to cooperate and harmonize.
But no matter the venue and the audience, it is extremely important that you have a safe place where you can sing without fear of judgment, where you can leave your worries behind and just sing!