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My Depression Playlist - Turning to music during depression

Image Credit: Getty Images/ Martin Dm

Can a carefully selected playlist help alleviate depression? Research seems to think so. Bryce Evans explores music therapy for depression and anxiety.

Music heals. Moreover, there's scientific evidence that music may boost mental well-being.

Truly! Recent research suggests that music therapy may help ease some depressive symptoms. For example, a 2017 Cochrane review suggested music therapy for lowering anxiety levels.

As a quick note, music therapy is NOT a cure for anxiety. Likewise, remember to discuss all new therapies with your doctor before trying them.

But with music everywhere we go, have you noticed how much a good tune can rebalance your mood?

According to this Frontiers review, people with depression reported improved confidence, self-esteem, and motivation during music therapy.

In a music therapy session, licensed therapists might:

  • Select a specific piece of music to listen to and discuss
  • Play a song themselves
  • Invite you to play an instrument
  • Analyze song lyrics
  • Find ways to engage with music in ways that make you comfortable

Many artists use music to express and process intense emotions. Perhaps that's why listening to your favorite tune can be cathartic. For a few minutes, you can feel a connection with someone who indirectly empathizes with you. The tone, the tempo, or the words can hit you — sometimes when you least expect it.

So, science agrees that music can change our mood. That's why many of us turn to Spotify when we're emotional or need a boost. The next step would be consciously using music as a coping tool for depression or anxiety and developing upon that.

Of course, everyone's music tastes differ, and a song that speaks to you may not work for the next person. Take the time to explore your personal preferences.

4 Things to consider when building your mental health music playlist

1. The tracks you need for emotional release

Some songs instantly kick your emotions into high gear — whether they're happy or sad. In my experience, diving into these songs when a feeling is fresh can be helpful. I welcome the chance to express emotions by singing (or crying) along with the music.

Even sad music may be comforting. A PLOS ONE study monitored people's reactions to listening to sad music. The study noted that two experiences were mainly positive — they called these "comforting sorrow" and "sweet sorrow." Although the emotions were a subtype of sadness, both led to a positive shift in mood in some people.

However, some participants felt their "genuinely negative emotions" increased with sad music. Researchers often linked these emotions to grief.

Switch it off if listening to a particular song "feels" unhealthy. Consider trying something more upbeat or take a break. Sometimes, listening to the same songs over and over can prevent me from moving on with my mood.

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

2. What music motivates you

Some songs will help focus my mind and motivate me as soon as I press play. You may not be looking for a tune that'll put a smile on your face but something that'll distract you and get you moving.

Many studies have investigated the connection between music and motivation to exercise. For example, one review paper studied the effect of "motivational" songs on the study group. Listening to motivational music can improve mood and athletic performance during a workout.

Music can push me to move after hours of being sedentary. It doesn't matter if I want a quick shuffle about or an hour of hardcore exercise; music always helps me get going.

These are my top three songs for motivation:

  • "Happy" by Pharrell Williams (but not the best for deep depression)
  • "Icon" by Jaden Smith 
  • "POWER" by Kanye West (also, check out Dissect's podcast about this song)

1. Self-love and positivity

Sometimes, you need something to inspire you and get you pumped up. 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 by the Journal of Positive Psychology, listening to instrumental music helped participants to boost their mood!

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

3. How music can bring about a sense of calm

What if I told you there was a song created to reduce anxiety? It's true. Sound therapists collaborated at the British Academy of Sound Therapy to create Marconi Union's "Weightless." 

Another music artist, Tycho, helps me stay calm when life is fraught. Try the tracks below, then start your own "Calming" playlist:

4. Music can be powerful

In my journey to recovery, I've become more aware of how powerful words can be. One of my new "therapeutic hobbies" is listening to lyrics and analyzing their meaning.

Some songs are so powerful that they've changed my perception of myself and others.

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

Remember that your list will continue to evolve (along with your sense of self)!

The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition.

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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