Inspired by the power of music to transform wellness for my father, I founded Humm.ly in 2017 to provide accessible music and meditation resources grounded in research from the field of music therapy.
What’s one thing that 95% of HR leaders agree on? Burnout is plaguing the workforce nationwide, no matter the industry. Characterized by exhaustion, detachment, and reduced efficiency, burnout can lead to depression and persist for as long as 15 years. Burnout is a psychological response to prolonged stress at work and can increase the likelihood of physical illnesses such as heart disease, chronic pain, and type 2 diabetes. Despite growing evidence of the physical and psychological implications of burnout, researchers have not reached consensus regarding treatment. So, what can people do to alleviate symptoms? One solution is music. I started the Humm.ly app with the idea to combine technology, music therapy and mindfulness techniques to help people heal. The app leverages a foundational understanding of music characteristics and their physiological impacts on the human body. From there, it combines data, technology, and music therapy research, which allows you to experience customized positive outcomes for full mind and body wellness.
For over 50 years, the field of music therapy has researched how music can be a powerful tool for affecting cognition and mood. Music therapists use music to help people reach their wellness goals. A fundamental concept of music as therapy is the Iso-Principle. Established as a means of mood management, the Iso-Principle is the process of matching an individual’s mood with music and supporting a transition to a different mood state. For example, a music therapist would begin by playing slow music in a sad sounding minor key for a person expressing a depressed mood. Throughout the session, the music therapist would gradually increase speed and change to a happier sounding major key as the person reacts to the music. Conversely, a person expressing an agitated mood would be met with loud, rhythmic music from the music therapist before gradually transitioning to slower music at a softer volume. Emotions evoked by music are biologically similar to regularly occurring emotions. Therefore, it is crucial that the music supports the individual as their mood changes from agitated or depressed to relaxed or content.
If one is unable to access a music therapist, there are safe and effective alternatives for music listening that are supported by music therapy research. For example, in a study about workers of computer information systems and music listening, mood state and cognitive performance increased when participants listened to music they selected for at least 30 minutes throughout their day. In another study, mood and performance of athletes improved after listening to self-selected music compared with those who did not listen to music. When used to support daily activities, music has the potential to affect symptoms of burnout including mood, cognition, and performance.
For individuals in the hospital, music therapy can provide an opportunity to express emotions and reflect upon experiences. Music facilitates rapport building, and the presence of a therapeutic relationship provides a patient with safety while in a vulnerable state. I had the opportunity to work with Sara Cannon, a board-certified music therapist, who described her experience in working with one of her patients. Here is what she witnessed during her music therapy session with the patient:
Steven* was recently diagnosed with cancer and was hospitalized for routine procedures. He was a classical guitar player, and appeared to be in good spirits. Sara offered Steven her guitar and he plucked out a tune. His brow furrowed as he concentrated on the music, focusing intently on his finger patterns. After a few minutes, he passed the guitar back as he requested “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan. Sara strummed the intro and sang through the first verse, “the answer my friend, is blowin in the wind…” Suddenly, Steven began to sob. Sara paused to check in with him, but through his tears he asked her to keep singing. She sang as Steven wept. For a few minutes, Steven had the space to process his experience. “I have no idea why that song made me cry,” Steven mused as Sara transitioned to slower, softer music. Sara continued playing, engaging with Steven for a few more songs. In that small hospital room, music created space, and the therapeutic relationship created safety. Steven had room to process his experience in a supportive environment. Music alone is powerful, but music paired with human connection is extraordinary.
Now through technology, accessing the expertise and guidance of a music therapist is easier than ever before. Music listening can be individually customized, ensuring it is safe, effective, and adaptable for every person experiencing burnout.
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* Name changed for confidentiality
Originally published at medium.com