Wellness

Psychologists Explain Why It Feels So Good To Sing In Your Car

Science suggests that a driving karaoke session can massively improve your well-being.
11/01/2018 05:45am ET
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You’ve probably experienced the euphoria of hopping in the car after a long day of work, turning up your favorite tune and singing along like you’re performing at the Grammys. But you might not realize that it’s actually good for your health.

Music alone can increase antibodies that boost your immunity and protect your body against bacteria. And according to experts, singing and driving can lead to a bunch of feel-good mental health effects, too. Here’s how:

It can stimulate your mind and alleviate stress or depression symptoms.

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Psychologists have long known there are perks to singing, but more information is continuing to emerge: A global 2017 study of more than 1,700 choir members found that singing in a group improved a person’s well-being because it created social connection and cognitive stimulation.

Kelley Kitley, a psychotherapist based in Chicago, said she has experienced the benefits firsthand. When she’s transitioning from working with clients all day to coming home to her husband and four kids, she finds her daily practice of singing in the car to be an incredible stress release.

“It used to be a ritual for me to home and pour a glass of wine,” Kitley said. “So when I got sober six years ago, I needed to replace that with something positive. I love music and singing along, it totally energizes me.”

It’s not only made Kitley’s solo commute more enjoyable, but car rides with the whole family have turned into a more relaxing experience. Plus, it provides a fun alternative for people who don’t like meditating and other forms of stress management, she said.

“There’s usually some discrepancy in song choice, but it’s really fun,” Kitley said. “Especially because we’re in the car so much. I recommend it to my clients as much as I do yoga or meditation.”

Connie Omari, a licensed professional counselor practicing in North Carolina and owner of Tech Talk Therapy, said she also suggests singing and driving to her patients. The practice can be its own form of meditation and can help to quiet a racing mind.

By listening to music, drivers are permitted with an opportunity to replace negative thoughts with more positiveness through the use of rhythm and beats,” she said. “It invites an opportunity to meditate.”

And because driving alone for long periods of time can have negative effects (some research has found it increases the risk of depression), Omari said singing and driving on a regular basis can help to slightly alleviate some of those issues.

Driving is so mundane and routine for most people, that if left unchecked, the quietness of the ride can consume your thoughts,” Omari said.

Music produces the feel-good hormones you get when you hug a loved one.

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According to Katie Ziskind, a licensed family therapist practicing in Connecticut, blasting music releases oxytocin, a chemical sometimes called the “love hormone.” Most people feel the effects of oxytocin when they’re hugging someone or in the beginning stages of a romantic relationship. Oxytocin initiates emotions like trust, a sense of stability and even relaxation.

“It boosts mood and uplifts mood,” Ziskind said, adding that oxytocin isn’t the only happy hormone that’s released when you’re blasting your favorite tunes. “Studies have shown that simply thinking about listening to your favorite song, before you actually listen, releases serotonin, another feel-good chemical in your brain that reduces anxiety.”

Dopamine released when you sing can reduce your road rage.

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In addition to the other feel-good hormones mentioned above, you’re also getting a hefty dose of dopamine when you’re singing your favorite lyrics at the top of your lungs. According to Kristen Fuller, a physician and clinical mental health writer for Center For Discovery, a treatment center in California, dopamine is the kind of neurotransmitter you want if you face a lot of traffic during your commute, because it has an effect on your emotions, including by producing sensations of pleasure.

“Dopamine boosts your motivation and drive,” Fuller said. “This happy mood can result in less road rage and friendlier driving — which can potentially lead to less accidents.”

“Turning up the music and singing as loud as humanly possible can improve the situation and make individuals happier when they arrive home and walk into work, which creates more positive environments around them for others,” she added.

Singing releases tension in your diaphragm more naturally than taking deep breaths.

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When you’re stressed out, some general advice is to take long, deep breaths. But singing along to your favorite jam might be even better than inhaling and exhaling.

Loretta G. Breuning, author of Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, and Endorphin Levels and founder of the Inner Mammal Institute in California, said that singing actually relieves tension that can build up in your diaphragm. Tension happens when your body believes you’re being threatened, even if the only danger is being late for work.

“Shallow breathing is a common response to tension,” Breuning said. “It can become a habit, and even though you’re not doing it consciously, it reinforces the sense that you’re threatened. Deeper breaths feel good, but natural ones feel better than forced ones. That’s what singing does.”

Not only does this natural form of deep breathing make you feel immediately more relaxed, but you can still feel the effects at the end of the day. Diaphragmatic breathing — a fancy word for deep breathing — also improves your ability to sleep, said Kristen Ray, the vice president of behavioral health at Bayless Integreated Healthcare in Phoenix.

Singing can help you with unprocessed emotions.

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Even if the song you’re listening to happens to be a somber tune, it can still help you process your emotions in a healthy way. Depending on your mood, different kinds of music can feel almost therapeutic.

“[Singing] is a way for us to express emotions, especially difficult ones,” Ray said. “When we sing lyrics we can relate to and along with the artist, we feel less alone.”

Music is emotionally evocative and helps bring up emotions you might have otherwise avoided for a long time, said Nick Hobson, director of science at the coaching service Psychology Compass.

“It’s for this exact reason why music therapy is showing promising results for helping people deal with anxiety, depression and PTSD,” Hobson said.

Ultimately, belting out your favorite tune can be seen as a very basic way to practice self-care, according to Ashley Hampton, a licensed psychologist and entrepreneurial coach in Birmingham, Alabama.

“We can control this activity without anyone’s influence,” she said. “A boss can’t tell you what song to choose. Your partner can’t tell you that you can’t carry a tune. Your kids can’t tell you to turn down the music that they don’t like. For two to three minutes per song, you’re a Grammy-winning artist in your car, enjoying your day, feeling happy and doing exactly what you want to be doing.”