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My Depression Playlist - Turning to music during depression

Image Credit: Getty Images/ Martin Dm

Music can be a powerful tool for healing. Bryce Evans shares his favorite tracks for coping with a depressive episode.

I believe that music heals. Moreover, there’s scientific evidence that music may have a positive effect on your mental well-being.

When it comes to depression, recent research suggests that music therapy may help alleviate some depressive symptoms. For example, a 2017 Cochrane review suggested that music therapy may be effective in lowering anxiety levels. Another research review in Frontiers in Psychology noted that people with depression who received music therapy reported improvements in confidence, self-esteem, or motivation. Music therapy is not unlike talk therapy, but instead of talking, you work through an issue by interacting with music. In these sessions licensed music therapists might select a specific piece of music to listen to, play the song him or herself, or invite you to play an instrument, analyze lyrics, or engage with the music in another way.

In my opinion, many artists use music to express and work through intense emotion. I think that’s why it can be cathartic to listen or sing along to your favorite tune. For a few minutes, you’re able to connect with someone who can empathize with you. The tone, the tempo, or the words can hit you — sometimes when you’re not even expecting it.

Knowing the positive effect music can have may empower you to use it as a tool for coping with (or overcoming) depression or anxiety.

Of course, everyone’s music taste is different, and a song that speaks to you may not work for the next person. Methods for coping and go-to playlists might crossover in places, but it’s important to find your personal preference.

Here are four things that I consider when building a playlist:

1. Catharsis

There may be songs that instantly kick your emotions into high gear — whether they’re happy or sad ones. In my experience, it can be helpful to dive into these songs when an emotion is fresh. That way, you can express that emotion by singing (or crying) along with the song.

Even sad music may be comforting. In a PLOS ONE study, researchers considered the experiences of people listening to sad music. They noted that two types of experiences were mainly positive — they called these “comforting sorrow” and “sweet sorrow.” The researchers found these experiences could lead to a positive shift in mood for some people.

You have to be careful though. The researchers also noted that some people listening to sad music experienced a type of sadness that they labeled as “genuinely negative.” This type of experience was linked to grief.

If you find any song is increasing feelings of negativity or sadness for you, turn it off. Consider trying something more upbeat or take a break. Personally, I’ve found that continuing to listen to certain songs for too long can prevent me from moving past whatever emotion I’m feeling.

Here are a few songs that have worked well for me:

2. Motivation

There are songs that will help focus my mind and motivate me as soon as I press play. You may not be looking for a song to slap a smile on your face, but something to take your mind off your worries and get you moving.

When it comes to music research, studies that investigate the connection between music and motivation often focus on exercise. For example, one review paper noted that when music is chosen for its motivational qualities, it tends to increase the overall positive effect of music on a person’s psychological state and athletic performance.

From my point of view, music isn’t just motivational when it comes to exercise — it can push me to get moving in general.

I find these songs especially motivational:

  • "Happy" by Pharrell Williams (not the best for deep depression)

  • "Icon" by Jaden Smith

  • "POWER" by Kanye West (also, check out Dissect’s podcast about this song)

3. Self-love and positivity

Sometimes, all you need is something to inspire you and get you pumped up. I find music can help put me in a positive mindset and give me a boost of self-love. Research backs up this idea. In a study in the Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers found that when people actively tried to boost their mood while listening to  instrumental music, it actually worked! 

Shower yourself with love and let it all out with some positive tunes. Try:

4. Calm

What if I told you there was a song created to reduce anxiety? It's true. The song, by Marconi Union, is called "Weightless,” and it was created in collaboration with sound therapists at the British Academy of Sound Therapy. It’s amazing to have one go-to song to help you, but there are many songs out there that may help calm you down and quell anxiety.

Consider trying:

Music can be powerful

In my journey to recovery, I’ve become more and more aware of how powerful words are (whether spoken, written, or thought). I do my best not only to listen to the lyrics of songs but also to decipher their meaning. There are songs with messages so powerful, in my opinion, that they can potentially change your perception of yourself and others.

Now it’s time for you to explore the sonic landscapes and find what works for you. First, try songs that pop up in your mind. Then, search through playlists or put your stream on shuffle to discover new songs.

Keep in mind that your list will continue to evolve (along with you)!

For more information on how to manage depression, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team. 

Article resources

NPS-US-NP-00478 May 2021

The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen​. 

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