Music can have a physical affect your body; music can help decrease emotional distress and amplify a variety of moods. It’s said that music is one of the few activities that involves using the majority or entirety of the human brain. It can have the same effects of a drug but without the nasty physical or mental side effects.
And it can be explained through science: Did you know that the chills and shivers you get when listening to a song you really like are actually caused by the release of dopamine in your body?
Further, studies have shown that people can understand the emotions evoked in a piece of music without actually ever having felt them. Emotions speak to all of us, which is why we sometimes feel connected to a sad lyric or music score even though we not have experienced that sadness in our life.
But sad music doesn’t always make us depressed. Other studies have shown our brains handle sadness differently when we experience through our real-life experience vs. through art and music. Others point to the fact that we’re attracted to sad music for its artistic beauty, which is why we often see iconic art created by those in melancholy states.
On the other side, we also know that this isn’t true for everyone, so the science is mixed. Some studies have shown that listening to sad music has a negative effect on how you interpret the day’s activities and react to various situations or others. So, for example, after listening to sad songs, people in the study misrepresented neutral looks on other people’s faces as sad or depressed.
The one thing that is true is that music therapy is becoming an important part of the support that mental and physical health practitioners use with patients. “Listening to music can reduce chronic pain by up to 21 per cent and depression by up to 25 per cent, according to a paper in the latest UK-based Journal of Advanced Nursing.”
Thanks to brain scans, we know that listening to music releases dopamine – a neurotransmitter associated with food, sex, and drugs – at certain emotional peaks, and it’s also possible that this is where we get the pleasure from listening to sad tunes.
So sad tunes don’t necessarily make us depressed; however, there’s no question that happy, inspirational, and upbeat tunes elicit a more mentally and emotionally positive effect. While in school, where stress is often very high, find or create play lists with empowering and inspirational messages and limit those that elicit sad emotions.
You can’t hide from negativity and sadness, it’s part of life. But you can look to build up your resiliency and mental health tool kit with positive play lists. If we have to err, let’s err on the side of caution and consider mixing in upbeat positive songs into our rainy day play lists or prioritize the happy songs.