Why We Seek Sad Music When Feeling Low & Other Music Psychology

25 January 2022 | 3:17 pm | Jennifer Buchanan, MBA, MTA

With her new book ‘Wellness, Wellplayed: The Power Of A Playlist’ out now, Canadian music therapist, author & speaker Jennifer Buchanan shares some insight into how music “can help cure the anytime blues”.

As long as humans have communicated with drums and plucked strings, music has provided a sense of well-being by lifting spirits, calming nerves and helping us communicate our feelings in the moment.

There are so many ingredients that can help us through a difficult time - food, shelter, fresh water, loving relationships, ways to contribute, just to name a few. Would it go too far to suggest music be added to the list? 

What music would help you feel better immediately? Motivate you? And charge you up so you dont feel so overwhelmed? 

Creating purposeful playlists is one way to delve more deeply into your music and to help during a difficult time - pandemics included. 

Here are 7 considerations for putting together the right playlist to help beat the anytime blues:

1. Don’t avoid sad music if that is what you need.

When we seek out sad music you are most likely looking for a feeling of validation and understanding. Music can meet you in a moment and after listening to it many will feel better. While listening to sad songs may not seem like the ideal way to address a low mood, its still very common for people to turn to melancholy music when theyre feeling down. According to a recent study people feeling sad actually prefer sad music. Music can become that empathic friend, an ally, who truly understands you and what you are going through.

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2. Introduce new music into your personal soundtrack.

With todays technology and on-demand music services, feeling a little low is a great time to access brand new music in order to massage your auditory cortex and your imagination. Music stimulates creativity by increasing blood and oxygen flow to the brain – transforming a groggy brain into a more active state. We often feel our most positive when we embrace our creativity and music can help us get there.

3. Listen to music with no lyrics and perhaps a new groove.

Typically a country listener? Have you tried fusion-funk? Or perhaps some low-fi? Changing a negative or resistant emotional state is at the root of getting into a more positive or productive state and music has the capacity to make a difference. This can be particularly helpful during times when we feel stuck. By giving your brain one less element to focus on (like lyrics) or adding in a fresh element like a new groove, we challenge our brain to seek out new information, giving us a distraction and a reprieve from what may have been troubling us earlier.

4. Listen to music that soothes you during a high stress time.

The right music relaxes the mind and lowers cortisol levels. When used intentionally, there is ample evidence to suggest music can make a difference in lowering anxiety and reducing your stress. Create a ‘comforting’ or ‘soothing’ playlist filled with songs that make you feel that way when you hear them. The stress hormone has been shown to drop dramatically when we listen to music that we personally find relaxing.

5. Use music to feel connected to those you cannot be with in person.

Music is a powerful anchor and roots people into the moment, helping their memory to maintain important data for later, and helping them feel more connected to those they care about, even when separated by death or distance. Music can boost memories while allowing our brain to access its reserves and remember important events and information. 

6. Socialise with your favourite music – whatever that may be.

Music inspires us and creates a clear passage to health. Take time for live music (making or watching), singing together, and enjoying one anothers company through music – in-person or online. Focus on creating new, more positive memories for future years to come. Just like a book club you can start a music hub, either virtually or in-person.   A music hub gives you a chance to share your music in a meaningful way with others.

7. Seek additional supports when music doesn’t work.

There are indicators for when you should access more support for example when you stop listening to music, or if you are feeling worse after hearing it it may be time to seek out the help of a mental health professional - and you may want to try a certified music therapist.

This life is tough to get through alone. Dont be afraid to ask for help.

There is so much evidence that music has the capacity to help you with whatever you are going through. It can truly be your sure friend. Every playlist you develop will bring you into a deep-seeded creative process that will ease your mind and guide you to see your world through a different lens. If you reflect on the past, stay open in the moment, and are willing to embrace the new, your memories, moods, and motivations have an opportunity to grow and change - creating a life that is Wellness, Wellplayed.

For more information check out my latest book: Wellness, Wellplayed: The Power Of A Playlist