Like any good TV drama, your life also has moments filled with laughter, sadness, anxiety, and unbelievable joy. And just like any show, your life also needs a soundtrack to go with all of those feelings. Catelyn Roth-Johnson chopped it up with Stacie Aamon Yedell (a board-certified music therapist based in Los Angeles) and Dr. Jameca Falconer (a clinical psychologist in St. Louis, Missouri) to explain how you can achieve your desired mood simply by listening to your favorite jams.
1. Feeling frustrated or angry? Get calm, cool, and collected.
“Start with angry music — with a fast tempo and maybe angry lyrics — so you can validate what you are feeling,” Stacie says. “After a few minutes, slowly switch to songs that allow you to move forward and change your mood.”
“Rude Boy” by Rihanna (Dubstep Remix)
“Beat It” by Michael Jackson
“Forget You” by CeeLo Green
“Unforgettable” by Nat King Cole
“A Kiss to Build a Dream On” by Louis Armstrong
“Cry Me a River” by Ella Fitzgerald
The science behind it: Tucked deep inside the center of your brain is the hypothalamus, which is responsible for regulating anger and aggressive behavior. It also regulates your pulse, blood pressure, and breathing — listening to music can help address your anger and then return you to a calmer state.
2. Going through a breakup? Give it one last cry.
“Having a song that relates to your mood, but also recalls memory, can be a very powerful tool,” Stacie says. “Biologically, a song can ignite a memory to change your feelings and mood in a second.”
“When I Was Your Man” by Bruno Mars
“Stay” by Rihanna
“Never Should Have” by Ashanti
The science behind it: The temporal lobe, located in the bottom center of your brain, is responsible for the storage of memory. The hippocampus, which can be found in the temporal lobe, is also related to memory and processes it into long-term storage. Crying it out while reflecting on the good and bad times of a recently lost relationship is the first step toward healing.
3. Feeling fearful? Squash anxiety and build courage.
Give yourself a boost of confidence before a big game or class presentation by listening to an upbeat, feel-good, empowering song to put you in good spirits.
“21st Century Girl” by Willow Smith
“Superwoman” by Alicia Keys
“Spotlight” by Jennifer Hudson
The science behind it: “Many don’t realize how feelings of courageousness are influenced by chemicals in the brain,” Dr. Falconer says. “One neurotransmitter, norepinephrine, can help moderate moods of stress and anxiety and allow a person to feel less overwhelmed by a situation.”
4. Feeling drained? Get hyped.
Turn down for what? Whether you’re getting ready to head out on a Friday night, or you’re trying to stay awake to finish that last half of your assigned reading, take a dance break and werk to some upbeat tunes!
“Love on Top” by Beyoncé
“Mrs. Right” by Mindless Behavior
“Put Your Records On” by Corinne Bailey Ray
“Know Your Name” by Trevor Jackson
The science behind it: The neurotransmitter, dopamine, is related to experiences of pleasure and the reward-learning process. In other words, when you do something good, you feel happy. “This teaches your brain to want that feeling again and again,” Dr. Falconer says. “This neurotransmitter can be stimulated by your surroundings, happy memories, or even upbeat music.”
5. Feeling restless? Catch some z’s.
“Falling asleep can be tricky at times, but finding music that has soothing lyrics or a calming melody will tend to work,” says Stacie.
“Ordinary People” by John Legend
“Music” by Brandy
“In a Sentimental Mood” by Duke Ellington and John Coltrane
The science behind it: There’s a reason you start to feel sleepy once night falls. “When the sun goes down, the pineal gland [a pea-sized gland just above the middle of your brain] is ‘turned on’ and begins to produce melatonin, which is released into the blood,” Dr. Falconer says. What’s melatonin? It’s a natural horomone made by the pineal gland that makes you feel less alert.
6. Lacking inspiration? Ignite your imagination.
According to Stacie, listening to music with inspirational lyrics can help stimulate new ideas and solutions. “You’d be surprised on how different atmospheres, new experiences, and different types of music can spark your imagination,” she says.
“Brand New Me” by Alicia Keys
“I Smile” by Kirk Franklin
“Through the Rain” by Mariah Carey
The science behind it: Imagination is triggered by a widespread network of neurons — cells that are related to nerves. These neurons, AKA the “mental workplace,” alter images and ideas and give you the ability to focus.
7. Feeling studious? Stay motivated.
Choose instrumental songs when hitting the books. “Usually, when you’re thinking about an idea that has nothing to do with the lyrics of the song, your mind will wander to what the song is saying, rather than what your mind is trying to think,” explains Stacie.
“What a Wonderful World (Instrumental)” by Louis Armstrong
“My Old Flame” by Miles Davis
“Sir Duke (Instrumental)” by Stevie Wonder
The science behind it: Although dopamine is related to feel-good moods, it also affects movement, willingness to do hard work, and motivation. “When you are in a good mood, your dopamine levels are high and you’re more willing to be productive and get tasks completed,” Dr. Falconer says.
Whatever it is you’re feeling — sadness over a breakup, jitters before a big test, or even accomplishment after nailing that high note in choir practice — you can always find a song that matches your #mood.
What’s your go-to song when you’re happy, sad, tired, or feeling some other kind of way? What songs would you add to these playlists? Tell us in the comments below!