Music plays an important role in everyone’s life whether they realize it or not. For some, like myself, music serves as a vital emotional support tool on a daily basis whether I’m at my happiest or otherwise. There is a definitive reason why songs that played in the car when we were five years old on the way to school never leave our memory and create a clear sense of nostalgia.
Sometimes this nostalgia can lift your mood or emotional state as songs remind you of positive experiences. However, it is important to note that sometimes this nostalgic feeling from music can produce negative feelings and worsen your mental health over time.
This distinction certainly depends on the person at hand and their individual emotional needs at a given time. This has been researched and proven by many, but was specifically examined in a study published in 2016 from Durham University in the United Kingdom and the University of Jyväskylä in Finland.
The study entitled “Memorable Experiences with Sad Music — Reasons, Reactions and Mechanisms of Three Types of Experiences” investigates why some people prefer to listen to sad music when they are sad and why others prefer to avoid it as much as possible, like myself.
The research showed sad music can cause negative feelings of profound grief for those who try to avoid listening to it when upset. This is precisely why I have always been confused when people say that they need to listen to sad music when they are distressed in order to deepen their sadness. This sounds like the worst plan to me, but that is simply because it would never work for me.
As college students who are still cognitively developing and experiencing academic and personal stress, we must figure out which preference we have in order to match our music to our energy. This allows us to have healthy control over our emotions while simultaneously bettering our mental health.
I appreciate the artistry of sad music just as much as I do happy music, but I try to keep myself in check with what I need to hear based on my emotional state. Personally, if I am actively upset over a situation, I cannot hear “Fine Line” by Harry Styles. But I know that a hype Doja Cat or Rihanna song will make me feel better.
Once you figure out what you need, skip through your music on shuffle and check in with your emotional reaction to each song. Find the one that produces the most positive reaction, if that's what you need, or find the one that produces a temporary emotional reaction if that's what you need instead.
As someone who listens to hours of music a day and has cultivated 800+ song playlists, I have found this method to be extremely helpful and recommend everyone to at least give it a try. See how much more control you have over your mental health.