How Creating a Music Playlist Can Help You Beat Depression and Anxiety


When you’re feeling down, there’s nothing quite like music to help get you back on your feet. Listening to music can help improve your mood, particularly when it comes to treating depression and anxiety. These are both conditions marked by persistent negative thoughts, which can be hard to shake even with the best intentions. But, what if you can flip the switch with some upbeat tunes? Here’s how to make the most of your favorite songs by creating a playlist to help you battle depression or anxiety.

Music has the power to soothe your soul and make you feel better, especially if you’re struggling with depression or anxiety. When we feel depressed or anxious, it’s easy to get stuck in negative thought cycles that can bring on feelings of guilt, sadness, fear, and other negative emotions. The good news is that by using music to help you calm down, manage stress levels, and even improve your mood, you can break these negative cycles and start feeling happier and more optimistic about life—which will have a positive impact on your health and well-being.

In today’s fast-paced world, many of us have our music library on stand-by to accompany us while we’re at work, running errands, or just out and about. Music has the power to motivate us to work harder, do better and even enjoy what we’re doing more than we otherwise would. But what we might not realize is that when we link these playlists to our own personal goals, we can not only become more productive but also more motivated to reach those goals. These goals can include overcoming bouts of depression and anxiety in our daily lives.

Why Use a Music Playlist to Fight Depression and Anxiety?

Science supports what you might already know from personal experience: listening to music can boost your mood. But, that effect is almost always temporary. If you listen to sad or angry music when you’re happy, for example, it may indeed make you feel sadder—but it probably won’t linger long enough to have any lasting impact on your overall state of mind. To get around that problem, many people who struggle with depression or anxiety use special playlists designed to help them overcome their emotional challenges by training their brains how to respond more positively in different situations. Start by asking yourself three questions: What do I want my music playlist to do? Where do I start? And where can I go from here?

What makes playlists so powerful? The right music can give you that extra serotonin boost that caffeine and other artificial mood enhancers can’t give you. Studies have shown that music has a positive effect on your mood and motivation. So, it’s no surprise that we turn to playlists when we want to get in the zone or when we’re feeling overwhelmed or beaten down. Most people listen to music while working or studying, no matter their mood, thanks to the presence of familiar melodies and lyrics.

What Songs Should Go on Your Music Playlist?

If you’re creating an emotional playlist to beat depression or anxiety, try to include songs that will help spark positive memories. Find songs that remind you of great times in your life—funny jokes with friends, adventures on trips, or relaxing afternoons spent reading by yourself. In creating your playlist, it can be helpful to write down every song that comes to mind. Think about every song you know, even if you don’t like it. This way, when you create your playlist you have a starting point.

Remember, music is very personal so make sure that what YOU love is on there! It doesn’t matter if your “guilty pleasure” songs are the first ones that come to mind; these are the starting point for your personal playlist. At least a few of these songs you write down should be ones that have great meaning for you. Choose at least one classic song from your childhood that reminds you of an important time in your life or an important person. Then, if possible, also choose at least one newer favorite of yours.

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and play only one or two types of music, but research shows that variety can help us be more productive. Listening to an upbeat mix—even if it’s from a genre you typically don’t care for—can boost your energy, focus, and creativity. Just make sure that workday playlist is varied enough to keep yourself from getting bored with it.

Be Careful About What Songs Go On Your Playlist

When you listen to music, it affects your mood. Listening to depressing songs when you’re feeling down can reinforce feelings of sadness or anger. Likewise, listening to upbeat songs while you’re feeling depressed can help relieve symptoms of depression. For example, listening to music that makes you feel energetic can help offset feelings of lethargy caused by depression or anxiety. So, be careful about what songs go on your playlist. The wrong selection of music could end up making you feel worse!

Personally, I’ve chosen many songs for my playlists from my teenage years, some of which have lyrics bloated with feelings of sadness and painful reverie. My thinking was that listening to such music would help purge my own similar feelings. But, as I should’ve learned as an often socially neglected, emotionally turbulent, and painfully shy young adult, all these songs did were make me more depressed and anxious. This is why choosing more upbeat selections should be a key point in creating your playlists.

However, while listing an entire playlist of happy songs may seem like a good idea, research shows that unhappy songs are just as effective at increasing one’s level of contentment. Still, pick out one or two songs that make you happy and leave them on repeat for whenever you need them most.

Organizing Your Playlist Songs

Rather than choosing songs at random, it’s better to curate playlists based on how you want to feel and what activities you will be doing. This means having different playlists based on the time of day, whether you’re starting your day, while you’re working, or when you’re settling down for the night. Of course, it’s important to choose music that resonates with you; otherwise, it won’t have the desired impact on your mood.

Another way of thinking about playlists is arranging them based on their purpose. For example, if you’re creating one specifically for stressful days at work, try choosing several upbeat tracks by different artists, as well as a soothing song by one artist that speaks to you. If you can think of songs that remind you of good times or people who have nothing to do with your emotional issues, consider adding them to your playlist.

Make your list more effective by adding some new artists. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut—if you typically listen to one type of music, try branching out by finding something that appeals to you musically, but doesn’t have any negative associations with it. You may just find that listening to new music can help break out of those old patterns for good. Remember, as long as it helps improve your mental health, there’s no such thing as bad music!

If you turn to music as a distraction or way to feel better, consider creating a playlist that’s designed specifically to help manage your negative emotions. The right songs can help give us confidence in ourselves and support us through our challenges so we keep moving forward despite bad moods.

Finding Some Alone Time with Your Music Playlists

If you experience depression or anxiety, there’s something you can do about it. Find what makes you feel better and share that with others. The power of music to bring us joy is a feeling we can all relate to; instead of hiding your playlists, make them available so others can use them in their own lives. Chances are, someone else out there is going through the same issues you are. Sharing what makes you feel good will not only help another person—it may also turn out to be just what helps break your own cycle of negative thoughts by forcing you to consider how someone else feels when they listen to certain songs.

This is part of why so many streaming services show playlists made by other users similar to your own musical tastes. It’s a good idea to use these lists as inspiration for your own, as others have already done some of the discovery for you. Listen to these playlists while exercising, driving, cooking, or other activities where you have a lot of downtime to think too much. Using music as a backdrop to work through difficult thoughts and emotions helps when you would otherwise be alone. You can even search for playlists that others have made for these exact activities as inspiration for your own playlist choices.

How to Make the Most of Your Mood Enhancing Playlists

There are two ways to get even more out of your music playlists in fighting depression and anxiety. One is to sing along with your favorite songs. Singing is incredibly effective at relieving anxiety. However, remember to breathe properly, as improper singing can cause you issues!

The other is to write in a journal. Writing about what you’re thinking about helps clear your mind and provides perspective on difficult problems. If you’re not one to usually journal, use your playlists as the key focus of your journaling. Specifically, which songs do you find resonate with you the most? Are some songs getting skipped more often than not? Have you heard a new song recently that’s stuck with you? By putting your thoughts about music into writing, you can better understand your own musical tastes, allowing you to refine your playlists further.

Of course, many music streaming services such as Spotify and YouTube Music will offer plenty of suggestions for your playlists based on music you’ve already told them you like. These are great places to find new musical connections, but of course, these music discovery algorithms are only as good as the information you give them. So, be sure you venture out of your musical comfort zone and don’t be afraid to tell these programs what you dislike as much as what you like so that you can get increasingly better suggestions.

The power of music is not to be underestimated. If you’re struggling with mental health, it can really help to seek out like-minded people who also love and appreciate great artists. Not only can you connect with people, but you can also learn more about why their favorite musicians are so talented. It’s pretty hard not to feel empowered when someone loves what they do as much as music lovers do. Using the power of playlists to find the music that best resonates with you is one of the most powerful mental health tools available, and with streaming music services more readily available than ever, it’s an inexpensive solution for improving your mood.

Writing words, spreading love, Amelia Desertsong primarily writes creative nonfiction articles, as well as dabbling in baseball, Pokemon, Magic the Gathering, and whatever else tickles her fancy.
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