Alt-pop musician 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, ‘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.



Neurological testing on teenagers and young adults found 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 a big believer in using music to cope with her mental health challenges, BENEE was excited to work with producer Josh Fountain and AUT scientists to learn about why music impacts anxiety.

I’ve always seen music as a kind of therapy, but it was fascinating to learn why certain sounds move your mood. Bagelswas 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 Bagelsshows 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 Bagelsis 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 come to life in the animated music video which floats viewers through a series of playful, organic worlds. Anxiety-reducing principles woven into the video include 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.



Note to editors:
Associate Professors Daniel Shepherd and Mangor Pedersen, postgraduate student Geet Vashista and Clinical Psychologist Dr Amy Kercher of AUT’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience tested the effect of listening to ‘Bagels’ in reducing anxious feelings on 30 people aged 18-25 reporting mild to moderate anxiety symptoms.

Brain activity recordings containing more than 10 billion readings of brain and automatic nervous system changes were captured through electroencephalogram (EEG) tests, making this a highly robust and unprecedented neurological assessment of a song’s ability to manage anxiety.

Bagels’ was tested against five control music tracks, including ‘Weightless’ by Marconi Union, widely acknowledged as the most relaxing song in the world, and ‘Shape of You’, by Ed Sheeran. Submitted to the esteemed peer-reviewed journal Psychophysiology and available on the preprint repository bioRxiv, key findings from this research include:

–        Listening to ‘Bagels’ is 5.1% more effective in reducing anxious feelings than the current ‘gold standard’ of relaxation music, ‘Weightless’.

–        ‘Bagels’ reduced brain activity in participants, indicating the song’s ability to soothe the mind.


About Youthline

Created in 1970, Youthline is a ‘with youth, for youth’ organisation that has supported young New Zealanders for more than 50 years, including those struggling with mental health and other issues. 
A registered charity made up of volunteer and paid staff members across New Zealand, Youthline offers a free helpline service, face-to-face counselling, mentoring, programmes in schools and communities to help youth grow and develop.




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