The Winter Blues: for me, they always seem to hit hardest after the holidays. The decorations are down, the extra lights are off, and the vacation is over, but we’re still in the thick of winter. The days are still short, the weather (here, anyway) is still keeping us indoors more often than not, and Spring Break seems so very far away.
When you’re struggling with your mood: in the throes of the winter blues, down in the dumps, have a case of the doldrums, etc., what do you feel like doing? Usually it’s something like this:
Eating junk food, avoiding people and responsibilities, staying inside, sleeping all day, staying up watching movies – any of that sound familiar? Unfortunately, the things that can sound the most appealing when we’re down just make it worse. They become part of a self-perpetuating cycle: you feel lousy and gain weight, which makes it even harder to exercise, which makes you feel more tired but less able to sleep, which makes you cranky, which makes you avoid people, which makes you lonely, which makes you sad, and on and on.
So when you feel lousy, what can you do? There’s a general consensus on what helps with seasonal moods: Light, especially sunlight; exercise; vitamin D; social interaction; and improved sleep make a big difference in how you feel. (These articles had some good insightsinto the subject.) But how do you dig yourself out of that pit when a part of you just wants to curl up and stay there?
Music can flip the switch from negative to positive, hopefully giving you enough of a jump start to begin to turn things around. Did you know that the music you listen to actually changes the way you perceive the world around you?
As simple as it sounds, scientists have found that listening to particularly happy or sad music changes the way we perceive the world. (Source)
That’s right: you’re more likely to see even neutral things as positive while you’re listening to especially happy music. The beauty of it is that it isn’t even one particular type of music that works: all that matters is that YOU think the music is happy. (Need some ideas? Check out our playlists!)
Many studies have shown the impact music can have on mood. One had college students listen to music and keep a mood journal.
“Not only did our sample of students report more positive emotions after listening to music, but their already positive emotions were intensified by listening to music,” Stratton says in a news release. (Source)
Music can also help in some very specific areas that make a big difference in mood management.
Listening to relaxing music can reduce stress, and not just the perception of it. Music actually improves the physiological symptoms of stress, for example, lowering your heart rate and blood pressure. And it doesn’t really matter what type: classical works, but so does any music you personally find relaxing. (Heavy Metal, though, had the same results as silence, so if you’re looking to reduce your stress levels, maybe save the Megadeth for later.) (Source)
Sleep disruptions make everything worse, don’t they? This holds especially true with mood problems. Improving your sleep can go a long way toward stabilizing your mood, and listening to music can help with that.
Relaxing music reduces sympathetic nervous system activity, decreases anxiety, blood pressure, heart and respiratory rate and may have positive effects on sleep via muscle relaxation and distraction from thoughts. (Source)
On a personal note, a few years ago when I was having an especially rough time, one of the changes I made that made the biggest impact was shaking up my bedtime routine. I’d been in the habit of watching movies or reading on my phone late at night. I cut that out and started listening to classical music – my choice was Claude Debussy and similar composers – for 30-45 minutes as I unwound and got ready for bed. I also set my bedtime for much earlier than it had been. It amazed me how much this impacted the amount and quality of my sleep!
You know what else helps with sleep and, independent of that, also helps you feel better? Exercise! Getting at least 150 minutes of exercise per week (that’s 30 minutes, 5 days/week) improves sleep quality in a big way. (Source)
Naturally, here at Underwater Audio we’re big believers in exercise and how music can help with it. Whether music makes it a more pleasant experience (so you’re more likely to do it) or pumps you up and wrings more out of your workout, it can give you the boost you need.
Obviously the best cure for being lonely is spending meaningful time with other people. But when you’re in your darkest slump, it can be hard to force yourself to seek out company. Sad music can sometimes make you feel worse…but when you just want to feel like you’re not alone? Music that reflects your mood can give you that sense of empathy that you crave. (Source)
Sometimes, feeling down can go to the next level. If you already have a tendency toward mood disorders, certain times of the year can make it even worse. And while Winter is the most common culprit, it’s actually not the only one.
If your symptoms are persistent and start interfering with your ability to function, definitely talk to a professional. The things we’ve listed above can help, but therapy and medication may be important.
Even with full-blown Seasonal Affective Disorder, music makes a demonstrable difference. A study set in a nursing home compared two groups of elderly patients with S.A.D. over the course of an 8-week therapy session. Patients who listened to music as part of their weekly therapy session showed a significant improvement over those who didn’t. (Source)
If you’re feeling down, take that first step! Reading this is a great start. Now, put on some music, come up with a plan, and maybe get outside for a bit.
What do you like to listen to when you’re down? What music says “Happy!” or “Relax” or “Everything’s ok”? We’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions!