Image Credit: Getty Images/ Martin Dm
Man relaxing on lawn and listening to music to improve mood and reduce anxiety

My Depression Playlist

Reading time | 4 mins

I believe that music heals. Moreover, there's scientific evidence that music may positively affect your mental well-being. 

When it comes to depression, recent research suggests music therapy may ease some depressive symptoms. For example, a 2021 Cochrane review suggested music therapy may effectively lower anxiety levels. A Frontiers research review noted that, with people who tried music therapy, there were higher reports of improved confidence, self-esteem, and motivation. Music therapy is like talk therapy, but 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 together
  • Play a song themselves
  • Invite you to play an instrument, analyse lyrics, or engage with the music in another way. 

Many artists use music to express and work through intense emotion. That's why listening or singing along to your favourite tune can be cathartic. For a few minutes, you can connect with someone who can empathise with you. The tone, the tempo, or the words can hit you — sometimes when you're not expecting it.

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

Of course, everyone's music tastes differ, 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 essential to find your personal preference.

Here are four things I consider when building a playlist:

1. Catharsis 

There may be songs that instantly kick your emotions into high gear, whether happy or sad. In my experience, it's helpful to dive into these songs when a feeling is still fresh. You can express emotion by singing (or crying) along with the music. 

Even sad music may be comforting. In a PLOS ONE study, researchers considered people's experiences as they listened to sad music. They noted two types of thought processes to be 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 listening to sad music could cause an effect they labelled as "genuinely negative." This type of experience was linked to grief. 

If you find any song increases feelings of negativity or sadness, turn it off. Consider trying something more upbeat or take a break. Listening to certain songs over and over can prevent me from moving past whatever emotion I'm feeling. 

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

2. Motivation

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

When it comes to music research, studies investigating music and motivation often focus on exercise. For example, one review paper noted that "motivational music" positively affects mood and athletic performance. 

From my point of view, music isn't only motivational when it comes to exercise — it can also push me to get moving with sit-down tasks!

I find these songs especially motivational:

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

3. 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 in the Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers found that using instrumental music to boost mood really does work! 

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

  • "i" by Kendrick Lamar

4. Calm

What if I told you there was a song composed to reduce anxiety? It's true. The song, by Marconi Union, is called "Weightless." It was created in collaboration with sound therapists at the British Academy of Sound Therapy. Listening to your usual go-to song is fantastic, but many tracks may help calm you and quell anxiety. 

Consider trying:

  • "A Walk" by Tycho (and almost anything else by him)

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 to listen to lyrics and decipher their meaning. Some songs have such powerful messages that they may even change your perception of yourself and others.

Now it's time to explore the sonic landscapes and find what works for you. First, try any 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)!