Embracing Emotions: How Depressing Music Can Help
Music is powerful and has the potential to impact a person’s mood. For example, listening to a favorite song after a rough day could make you feel a bit better, or putting on classical music in the evening could help you de-stress, relax, and unwind for sleep. Sad music also has the potential to affect mood, so is it a good idea to listen to it when you’re already feeling sad or hopeless as a result of a mental health condition like depression? Seeking the support and advice of a qualified mental health professional is typically the recommended course of action for those experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition. That said, listening to sad music may offer benefits, too; read on to learn more.
How Music Can Affect Us
Most people’s lives have been impacted by music in some way. Whether we’ve connected with friends through sharing songs or dancing together or have learned about ourselves through the lyrics of our favorite artist, music has brought benefits to many of us throughout our lives. One reason it may be so impactful is that it can engage several different parts of the brain at once. Kim Innes, professor of epidemiology at West Virginia University’s School of Public Health, says that “Music seems to ‘selectively activate’ neurochemical systems and brain structures associated with positive mood, emotion regulation, attention, and memory in ways that promote beneficial changes”.
Music can affect our physical state as well. Many athletes use music as a way to get energized, for example, and they may curate specific playlists for training. Listening to music while exercising can also help a person stay focused or inspired to put in extra effort. Music may help with overall movement and coordination, too; songs with a fast tempo and a strong beat can help a runner keep pace, for instance. Similarly, relaxing music can be used to alleviate physical stress and tension. One study found that music therapy interventions seemed to be “effective in increasing subject pain control, physical comfort, and relaxation” in hospice patients.
Finally, music also has the potential to impact mood and mental health. Listening to music may help a person reduce stress, control their mood, or better express emotions. As one article on the topic explains, music therapy in particular “can be used to improve emotional well-being, allow patients to cope with stress, and boost psychological outlook in those with depression. While music serves as a medium for processing emotions, trauma, and grief, it can also function as a calming agent in the setting of anxiety”. So we know that some types of music may positively impact mental health, but can sad songs have the opposite effect?
Effects Of Listening To Sad Music When Experiencing Depression
Since music can have such a significant impact on our mental, physical, and emotional states, should people who are experiencing symptoms of depression avoid sad songs? Every person is different, and if you notice that sad songs are making you feel worse, it may be advisable to stop listening to them and seek the support of a mental health professional. However, research suggests that in general, listening to sad music may actually be beneficial for those with symptoms of depression. A 2019 study reports that participants with major depressive disorder reported feeling better after listening to sad music rather than it exacerbating their low mood.
Some reasons that those experiencing a low mood as a result of depression (or for any other reason) may find listening to sad music comforting include:
Validation. Music has the power to communicate complex feelings and experiences. Since depression can be a deeply complex and often lonely experience, listening to sad music could help an individual experiencing this condition feel understood. Some of the most popular songs of all time are deeply sad, but they are loved by many because they speak to truly human, relatable experiences.
Connection to emotions. Depression is often associated with feelings of sadness, but another potential symptom is emotional numbness. For those who experience this effect, music can be a helpful tool for reconnecting with and reflecting on emotions.
Nostalgia. Even if a song sounds sad, there is always the possibility that someone associates it with a happy memory or time of their life. Listening to a song with a strong memory attached to it can help someone remember something or someone that is or was important to them. Some sad songs may also trigger happy memories with loved ones and provide comfort to someone experiencing sadness or an otherwise difficult time.
While listening to sad music when you’re experiencing symptoms of depression can be helpful, it may not work this way for everyone. If it triggers an intensification of your sadness or other symptoms, it may be best to avoid it and seek the support of a professional. Again, if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression or another mental health condition, seeking professional treatment is recommended. Listening to music does not constitute a form of professional treatment; it may simply act as a helpful coping tool in tandem with your prescribed treatment.
Seeking Treatment For Symptoms Of Depression
In addition to persistent sadness and low mood, other symptoms of depression can include a sense of worthlessness or guilt, significant changes in eating and/or sleeping habits, low energy, irritability, and a loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed. If you’ve been experiencing these symptoms consistently for at least two weeks, it’s generally advisable to consult with a mental health professional. They can screen you for depression and teach you healthy coping mechanisms to help you manage symptoms. With a therapeutic modality like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), for instance, they may also be able to help you learn to recognize and shift flawed or otherwise unhealthy thought patterns that may be causing or contributing to your symptoms.
Those who are experiencing symptoms of depression may find the prospect of regularly traveling to in-person therapy appointments daunting or difficult. In cases like these, online therapy can be a viable alternative. With an online therapy service like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging from the comfort of home or anywhere else you have an internet connection. Research suggests that online CBT may be even more effective in treating depression than traditional, in-person sessions, so this option may be worth considering for those experiencing signs of this mental health condition.
There are various reasons listening to sad music may actually be comforting to those experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition such as sadness or low mood. However, if you find that it worsens your symptoms, it may not be an appropriate coping mechanism for you. If you’re experiencing common signs of a mental health condition like depression, it’s usually recommended that you meet with a qualified healthcare provider to address them.
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