Whether you’re feeling a little blue or are enjoying life, chances are, you have a song or two that fits your mood perfectly. Music has long been associated with emotion, but researchers are digging into just how music can affect our mood and even how it can affect mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety.
Understanding the way music affects our emotions can help mental health professionals tailor treatments to help patients address their mental health needs, without pharmaceutical interventions. There’s been a considerable amount of research put into the topic, but the results should surprise no one—music can change our mood.
Why Do People with Depression Listen to Sad Music?
While listening to sad songs may not seem like the ideal way to address a depressed mood, it’s still very common for people to turn to melancholy music when they’re feeling down. According to a study by the University of South Florida, people with depression actually prefer sad music.
Researchers surveyed participants about their preferences for different music clips and found that depressed participants often selected the sad clips over the happy or neutral music clips. This study also asked participants about why they chose the music they did and found that many depressed participants reported that they found the sad music soothing and uplifting—not perpetuating their negative mood as previously thought.
This study gives us a better understanding of how music affects those with depression and provides valuable insight into why upbeat music may not be the cure-all for negative moods it was once thought to be. Instead, many participants reported that happy or neutral music had little effect on them, that they didn’t connect with these clips, or that it was irritating or upsetting to them in their current emotional state.
How Music Can Affect Your Mood
As it turns out, the music we listen to affects the way we perceive the world, which can have a direct impact on our mood. Studies have found that one of the main reasons we listen to music is to regulate our mood and attention. Music can encourage sleep, wakefulness, concentration, relaxation, stress, and emotional expression.
Choosing angry songs, for instance, while feeling stressed may seem counterintuitive, but as it turns out, energetic music can help listeners manage their feelings of stress or anger. It isn’t merely the content of the music that affects our mood—our brains respond to the beats and tones of music in the cerebellum and amygdala (the feeling parts of the brain) before it is processed in the frontal lobes (the thinking parts of the brain).
Music can also stimulate memory and help make it easier to recall events and information. This is why music is commonly used to help treat Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, as well as comfort patients struggling with memory loss and brain damage. Music can also evoke imagery and emotional responses that may not be directly tied to any one memory—such as the emotion of feeling boundless and free on a warm summer’s day.
Does Music Physically Affect the Brain?
Music has a visible effect on our brains, which is why it can be such a powerful tool to regulate our moods. It can lower the stress hormone cortisol, as well as increase the release of dopamine, especially when our playlist is on shuffle.
Music causes our brain to expect certain outcomes in the music, and when these patterns are completed, we experience a release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for elevating our mood and pleasure. When our unconscious expectations for music are met, we feel rewarded.
Listening to live music also has been linked to a release of oxytocin, which is known as the love or trust neurotransmitter. Oxytocin helps us bond with others and socialize, which can be an important part of treating mood disorders like depression.
Playing music is even better for your brain than simply listening. Musicians’ brains have a much greater number of synaptic connections, which improves their cognitive performance. Conversely, those with brain damage may struggle with musicality.
Is Listening to Sad Music a Sign of Depression?
So, should you be concerned if someone in your life gravitates towards sad music frequently? Listening to sad music can be a sign of depression, but it also can mean that the person finds slower, quieter music soothing. You may want to encourage them to listen to some happy, mood-boosting jams, but depending on how they feel, upbeat music may really just irritate them or make them feel disconnected.
Making playlists of mood-appropriate music and listening to them can be one way that a depressed person manages their mental illness and soothes their emotions. Music also can stir memories, which can be comforting. Thinking back on happy events or recalling friends can help alleviate feelings of isolation, which are common for people with depression.
How TMS Can Help Depression
Music is a drug-free way to help treat depression, but it isn’t the only option. If you or a loved one is struggling with depression and are looking for an alternative, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) may be right for you.
At Pulse TMS, our highly trained team will help you discover a personalized treatment approach for your condition, including depression, OCD, and postpartum depression. We care deeply about our clients and their wellbeing, and we strive to ensure that your care is comfortable, effective, and—most of all—safe.
Want to learn more about TMS and find out if it is the right treatment for you? Schedule an appointment to discuss your treatment today.