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Is It Good for Our Mental Health to Listen to Sad Music?

Is It Good for Our Mental Health to Listen to Sad Music?

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past 24 hours, you’ve probably heard Adele’s new song Hello” that was just released off her upcoming album titled 25.  It’s been viral everywhere: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

Adele is famous for producing sad romantic empowering love songs with strong melodies. Typically Adele’s lyrics encompass love, heart break and reflection.  The lyrics from her new song Hello are not any different:

Hello from the outside
At least I can say that I’ve tried
To tell you I’m sorry, for breaking your heart
But it don’t matter, it clearly doesn’t tear you apart anymore

Those lyrics connect to anyone who’s tried to move forward from a relationship.  You’re on the outside, looking in, desperate to say hello. Furthermore, it got me thinking about music and how it affects us. Often, when I am feeling down, I listen to sad depressing music. Now, I’m wondering why that is.  Perhaps I want a song that relates to the situation I am in? Or maybe I just want to dwell on my emotions for a bit.  But is listening to sad music when you’re sad healthy? Researchers dug in to find out…

Emotional regulation is a huge component of mental health. If you are horrible at managing your emotions, you have a higher chance of getting mood disorders like depression. Clinical music therapists know all about how music can relieve depression and help with mood regulation.

However, not much is known about how the way we listen to music affects our mental health.  Many people listen to music as a way of regulating their emotions. Researchers at universities in Finland and Denmark decided to investigate the relationship between mental health, music listening habits and neural responses to music emotions by looking at a combination of behavioral and neuroimaging data.

The researchers recorded participants’ neural activity as they listened to clips of happy, sad and fearful sounding music. The study proved that people who associated their sad situation with music are negatively influencing their mental health. In fact, the study concluded that men, especially, who associate music with a negative emotion often hear a song and respond negatively to that song.

“Some ways of coping with negative emotion, such as rumination, which means continually thinking over negative things, are linked to poor mental health. We wanted to learn whether there could be similar negative effects of some styles of music listening,” explains Emily Carlson, a music therapist and the main author of the study.

Participants were assessed on elements of mental health such as anxiety, depression and neuroticism. The study reported the ways they used music to regulate their emotions. They found that neuroticism was higher in people who listen to sad or aggressive music to express their negative feelings, particularly in males. Interesting…

“This style of listening results in the feeling of expression of negative feelings, not necessarily improving the negative mood,” says Dr. Suvi Saarikallio, co-author of the study.

So expressing our negative emotions though listening to sad music actually can hinder us from getting over the sad situation in the first place.  Maybe I should have listened to Pharell’s “Happy” instead of Adele’s “Someone Like You” during my last emotional heartbreak. Guess it’s too late to go back now!

One thing to note is that men were seen to have the most negative effects from the sad music.  This is because men listen to emotional music to express their emotions while women tend to listen to emotional music to detract from their emotions. Still, some females do listen to music to express their pain as well. It really just depends on the motive you have behind your depressing music binges.

Overall, the research proves that expressing your emotions through music can either be very good or detrimental. It is important to find healthy ways to express your pain so you remain in a healthier frame of mind instead of going down a downward spiral. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-777-9588.


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