BENEE’s new song has been scientifically designed to calm anxiety

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BENEE’s new song has been scientifically designed to calm anxiety

Words by Mixdown staff

Alt-pop wunderkind BENEE has collaborated with New Zealand mental health charity Youthline and leading neuroscientists on a new single, scientifically designed to help reduce anxious feelings.

Written and produced specifically to support young peoples’ mental wellbeing, the new single from NZ alt-pop wunderkind BENEE, ‘Bagels’, uses musical elements identified by Auckland University of Technology (AUT) neuroscientists to relax the nervous system, modify brain activity and ease feelings of anxiousness.

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Through neurological testing on teenagers and young adults, research revealed that listening to ‘Bagels’ lowered levels of ‘state anxiety’, which is the type of short-term anxiety experienced in stressful situations. The track also calmed brain activity in the frontal and parietal lobes – the areas often associated with regulating emotions and the fight or flight stress response.

As an advocate of using music to cope with her mental health challenges, BENEE was excited to work with producer Josh Fountain and the AUT scientists to learn about just how music impacts our anxiety and stress levels.

“I’ve always seen music as a kind of therapy, but it was fascinating to learn why certain sounds move your mood. ‘Bagels’ was a totally different creative process for us: every aspect, from the beat, the natural soundscape and harmonies, to the subtle message in my lyrics, “you are not alone”, is designed to take away feelings of anxiousness.

I’ve huge respect for Youthline’s work so it’s been awesome to partner on this track, to show young people that it’s ok to talk about mental health, and to provide them with another tool to try when stressed. We all need to find what helps us, and one way I find calm is swimming at the beach and having a bagel – I’ve made a nod to this in the song, and obviously its title ‘Bagels’.”

As well as advising on the musical principles behind ‘Bagels’, AUT Associate Professors Daniel Shepherd and Mangor Pedersen designed tests to measure the song’s impact on anxious feelings. Using electroencephalogram (EEG) imaging of brain activity, their research found ‘Bagels’ was the most effective in easing anxious feelings and relaxing the brain of all music tested.

Associate Professor Shepherd says:

“Our testing of ‘Bagels’ shows its effectiveness for managing anxious thoughts and shifting young peoples’ bodies and brains into a significantly calmer state, shown through their lower heart rate, patterns of brain activity, and reduced perspiration.

I’ve studied the psychological effects of music for 15 years and jumped at the chance to be part of this ground-breaking project. Powered by more than 10 billion data points mapping a detailed representation of brain activity, our research into ‘Bagels’ is an unprecedented study of how music can regulate anxiety, and I’m excited to see it help our youth.”

Bagels’’ soothing melodies and natural soundscapes are accompanied by a gorgeous music video which floats viewers through a series of playful, organic forms. Anxiety-reducing principles are woven into the video, including smooth colour transitions and hypnotic swaying of organic forms, a technique to move our eyes repetitively from left to right. This strategy is a feature of Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprogramming (EMDR), a therapeutic tool used to help with anxiety.

Says Youthline’s Clinical and Services Manager, registered counsellor Joanna Madsen:

“There’s been a rapid rise in mental distress post Covid and anxiety is one of the top concerns raised with our therapists and helpline counsellors. Helping young people manage their mental wellbeing and anxiousness can prevent an increase in distress, but we know around half of young people don’t feel confident asking for support with their mental health.

There’s a clear need for clinically sound, creative, and accessible resources young people can add to their wellness kit for when they’re feeling anxious. It’s our hope this track will be a practical tool teenagers and young adults can use in stressful situations – around exams, a tough conversation, or on a crowded bus.

It’s been so exciting to have someone as talented and relevant as BENEE onboard. She’s a vocal mental health advocate and her determination to use her voice to support young people shines through this track.”

All income generated from streaming of ‘Bagels’ will be donated to Youthline.