By Andrea Lynn Cianflone
As the corona virus spreads its wings across the globe, I am reminded of another disability that plagues our world…Major Depression. Major Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. In the US alone, there has been a 400% antidepressant use increase in the past twenty years and anxiety disorders cost the U.S more than $42 billion a year, almost one third of the country’s total mental health bill. Depression also ranks as the top three factors in presenteeism (coming to work sick, injured, overly fatigued and unable to function at a normal level of productivity) and absenteeism in the workplace. As people struggle with this wellness issue amidst another global crisis, I have a particular interest in understanding how these individuals can be cared for in a special way through the craft of singing.
As I glanced through the latest news online, I was struck by the spirit of community in Italy as people joined together singing from their balconies while quarantined during the corona virus lockdown. Singing became the new contagion.
Witnessing this beautiful display confirmed for me again my reasons to bring singing to the general public to help our emotional, physical, and spiritual wellness. I see the state of our current health crisis (major depression, corona, or otherwise) as an opportunity to love more and be creative. Be Delighted has always stood as its mission to utilize the arts to transform and empower oneself and others. Be Delighted’s Sing4Wellness program teaches participants to be vulnerable, responsible, courageous, forgiving, all the while participating in community with others. Be Delighted is a way for the individual to nurture healing, wellness and connectedness through multi-dimension art forms and experiential interaction with others.
Singing has many benefits! Singing helps to release unhealed subconscious trauma. It gives a “lending voice” to those who feel voiceless. Because singing is a neuromuscular activity, the patterns are closely linked to psychological patterns and emotional response as Newham points out in Therapeutic voicework: Principles and practice for the use of singing as a therapy. In group settings, singing together requires a level of responsibility (to sing the correct notes or to wait upon another person to sing his or her melodic line. Singing then teaches individuals to be patient, disciplined while perfecting the beauty over a given amount of time. Singing with others creates an opportunity to be vulnerable. It inspires the courage to sing in front of peers and to do so in a safe, loving environment. I personally witnessed this transformation in many individuals who participated in Sing4Wellness: a young boy who was bullied at school grew incredible confidence over six months of singing. A shy audience participant at a Sing4Wellness concert who was afraid to pick up the microphone grabbed the microphone from me and began to sing after I encouraged the audience to clap for him. One particularly moving story involved bringing Sing4Wellness to a young teenager who had in previous weeks been hospitalized as a preventative suicide watch measure. It was inspiring for me to see a smile emerge on this young teenager’s face as we sang together. I witnessed all the thoughts plaguing her mind as they spilled out into an improvised song duet. Singing truly transforms people’s hearts from resentment to forgiveness! It leads people and our communities in building virtue!
In this time of elevated stress, I have monitored my own body, feelings of aches and pains of worry. I looked to the craft of singing once again to bring solace to bodily health. Singing releases endorphins, oxygenates the brain, and allows our body’s organs to vibrate at its given frequency. It is for this reason that singing can be a great additional medicinal to rebalance neurotransmitters in the brain. It helps in the aid of digestion by increasing gut motility. The communication between the brain, vagus nerve, and gut cannot be overlooked when speaking about the inflammatory brain disease such as depression. Gut microbiome can contribute to anxiety and depression by influencing the stress response, through making the gut “leaky”, causing chronic inflammation and producing harmful peptides. Hans Guenther Bastian and other researchers from the Institute of Musical Education at Frankfurt University tested the blood of people who sang in a professional choir and found that concentrations of immunoglobulin A and hydrocortisone, an anti-stress hormone, increased significantly during the rehearsal. This research is vital, as it poignantly illustrates how singing can override the high levels of cortisol in a person’s body. This is especially important for populations of people where the fight-or-flight response is overactive and is certainly helpful to the general public as we struggle through this corona crisis together.
Singing may not cure corona virus but it can provide a means of personal healing and connectedness to our communities even if it means singing out of the windows of our apartments and homes. Singing may just save the day when it comes to responding to the challenges of adversity in times of this crisis. So, let’s not be afraid to sing. Let’s sing for our world’s wellness!