When trying to stave off depression, it’s important to experiment with different possible methods of amelioration. There is no single panacea for poor mental health. One solution may work for one individual but not for another. Some people also require a specific combinatory approach that works best for them.
In managing my own depressive episodes and susceptibilities, I have tried and tested various lifestyle changes and habits, with varying results. But something that has helped recently with dissipating the dark looming cloud of depression is drumming.
Discovering the Cajon
I feel like I always have rhythms in my head waiting to get out, latent but not yet expressed. So I constantly find myself tapping on tables or on my legs. When I was living in Thailand, I and a group of friends would sometimes get together and have a jam session. One friend bought a cajon (a box-shaped percussion instrument originating from Peru, invented by African slaves in the 18th century). I felt completely at home playing it. Those nights jamming with the cajon in a group were pure fun. So when I left Thailand for home, I definitely missed being able to drum. Drumming, I found, was a real mood booster.
Back home, I eventually decided to get my own cajon. And I was instantly hooked. I was able to vent some rhythmic creativity again. Yet one of the most promising benefits I noticed to drumming – especially long-duration, repetitive drumming – was an alleviation of any depressive symptoms I may be experiencing. As it turns out, drumming does hold therapeutic value in the context of mental health. I believe drumming can be used as an antidote for depression for a variety of reasons.
Drumming the Depression Away
Drumming is by no means a cure for depression or necessarily as potent or effective as other lifestyle changes or treatments. But it can certainly help to counteract a depressed person’s tendency to ruminate, offering some relief from negative thoughts. Rhythmic drumming achieves this by keeping you centred in the present moment. This fact – and the evidence for drumming’s mental health benefits – led to the formulation of a type of therapy called Therapeutic Rhythm and Mindfulness (TRM).
Indeed, peer-reviewed research indicates that TRM is quite effective. Group drumming and rhythm allows people to increase connection with their body, which is a crucial component of anchoring yourself in the present moment. So drumming is one way of practising mindfulness, which we know can ameliorate depression.
TRM is intended to enhance positive emotions, social connectedness, and mindful awareness, as well as reduce anxiety, depression, and fatigue. While you may feel some aversion to drum circles for their hippie connotations, it does seem that the communal aspect of a drum circle contributes significantly to drumming’s therapeutic potential.
One study found that group drumming had a positive impact on mood. More interestingly, researchers discovered that communal drumming was anti-inflammatory, which may provide a biological reason why it helped to lift patients out of depression. After all, inflammation has been linked to various depressive symptoms.
When you add a social dimension to drumming, you can encourage a sense of connectedness. This is because group drumming involves communication through music; plus, it often fosters a feeling of community. Social connectedness is vitally important for depressed people, who may struggle with isolation.
Drumming and Altered States of Consciousness
Rhythmic drumming can induce altered states of consciousness (ASCs). The evolutionary scientist Joseph Jordania believes that rhythmic drumming and body movements helped to put ancestral tribes into a kind of “battle trance”, priming them for predatory efforts. However, Jordania also emphasises that these drumming-induced trance states would increase group solidarity. As social creatures, it’s extremely important that we instil and repeat behaviours that encourage bonding. Again, communal drumming can improve mental health by combating social isolation.
Transpersonal psychologists, who concern themselves with the ‘spiritual’ aspects of human experience, postulate that ACSs can provide therapeutic value for patients suffering from mental health issues. Rhythmic drumming is unlikely to induce an altered state at a level of emotional intensity achieved with psychedelic substances. Nonetheless, drumming certainly can create a meditative state or flow state (when you are totally absorbed in an activity and everything else disappears).
Altered states through drumming can also induce trance, ecstasy, joy, relaxation, and energy. These states of mind can act as curative and rejuvenating experiences for a depressive. On the other hand, achieving altered states through the act of drumming is not necessarily easy or reliable. Nevertheless, even without altered states, you can still experience notable mental health benefits from drumming, either done in your alone time or – better yet – in a group setting. You may discover that drumming is the perfect antidote for the gloom and distress that characterises depression.