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Whether you’re looking to unwind after a taxing day at the office or get pumped up before a long run, there is no shortage of songs for any occasion, mood or life circumstance you might find yourself in.
How Music Affects Our Mood
Think about how many times you’ve selected your music by mood. Regardless of the song, studies show that listening to the music you love will light up the pleasure centers of the brain and cause it to release dopamine, one of the neurotransmitters in the body responsible for life’s feel-good moments and “reward experiences”. 
If you’ve ever felt goosebumps or chills listening to music, you’ve experienced this intricate firing of neurons releasing these feel-good chemicals into your body. They’re also responsible for the positive mood boost you feel during and after listening to some of your favorite songs.
An article published in Seeker titled, Why Music Makes You Happy, explains:
“[This also] offer[s] a biological explanation for why music has been such a major part of major emotional events in cultures around the world since the beginning of human history. Through music, the study also offers new insights into how the human pleasure system works.” [2,3]
The benefits of listening to music you enjoy don’t stop there. Numerous scientific studies on the psychology of music and music therapy have shown decreased levels of stress hormone production in the body along with increased energy, boosted confidence levels and even a reduction of perception of pain in the body. An infographic detailing this information can be found here. 
Using Music to Transform Your Mood
While there is no denying that music is a transformative and emotive part of the human experience, when it comes to shifting your mood there are some tips to keep in mind for an optimal mood-boosting experience:
Heartbeats are like chameleons
On an emotional level, music may affect everyone differently; however, did you know that music could affect your heart rate and breathing? A study in Circulation, a journal published by the American Heart Association, highlighted the correlation between music with a higher tempo and the cardio respiratory system showing consistent increases in both heart and breathing rates :
“Music emphasis and rhythmic phrases are tracked consistently by physiological variables. Autonomic responses are synchronized with music, which might therefore convey emotions through autonomic arousal during crescendos or rhythmic phrases.”
An example of this can be found in the response of the natural progression in music tempo (beats per minute or bpm) during group fitness classes. Warm-ups have tempos with increasing intensity; around 130 bpm, the cardio portion of the class has the highest tempo; hovering around 165 bpm and cool downs have the lowest tempos; around 80 bpm.
Read More: Why Moms Need Exercise
Why this is important: Given that your heart rate could be affected by the music’s beat, it would probably be best to listen to upbeat music with a higher tempo when you need an energy boost, rather than when you are in an agitated state. Similarly, choosing music with a slower tempo can help bring you to a mellower mood.
Music by mood: “It’s going to be OK”
- “Sunday Best” – Surfaces
- “Put Your Records On” – Corrine Bailey Rae
- “Good Life” – OneRepublic
- “Best Day of My Life” – American Authors
- “Sunshine” – Atmosphere
Go back in time
Music and memory go hand in hand. Perhaps a reminiscent trip down memory lane takes you back to the Beatles song your mother hummed along to while French braiding your hair on lazy Summer afternoons or your sister’s Spice Girls album which was on repeat for months when you were 10 will evoke enough positive memories to counteract any negative mood.
In fact, “[nostalgic] music serves as a soundtrack for [the] mental movie that starts playing in our head,” according to Petr Janata a cognitive neurologist at the University of California, Davis. “It calls back memories of a particular person or place and…gets consolidated into the especially emotional memories from our formative years.” 
Nostalgia is often associated with a general feeling of happiness and longing, rather than tied to a specific memory and according to research, it seems the songs we enjoy between the ages of 12-22 are the songs vividly etched into our brains and therefore prompt the carefree, joyful memories and feelings of the ‘good old days’. 
Why this is important: Who doesn’t love a good skip down memory lane? The strong connection between a positive mood and music that brings about fond memories of yesteryear almost guarantees an immediate mood improvement.
Music by mood: “Take me back to simpler days”
- “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” – Green Day
- “Brown Eyed Girl” – Van Morrison
- “Jack & Diane” – John Mellencamp
- “Wild World” – Yusuf / Cat Stevens
- “Big Yellow Taxi” – Counting Crows
If you can sing along, even better
Grab the nearest inanimate object as your microphone because singing your heart out proves to be as much of a mood booster as it is a stress reliever.
This is due to the fact that singing is a naturally effective way to release tension from your diaphragm (fun fact: deep breathing also does this, but singing makes it easier) helping to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and relax you. Plus, it’s an added oxygen boost for the body, which it loves. Win-win!
Read More: How Stressed Parents Impact A Child
In addition to relieving tension and calming your nervous system, singing can also help us release difficult, unprocessed emotions and “[singing] lyrics we relate to helps us feel less alone,” according to research psychologist Nick Hobson. 
There’s also something to be said about how familiarity often breeds feelings of comfort and connection. When we feel connected, we feel safe. This is why knowing what to expect (i.e. routines) is very soothing to our predictability-loving brain. The same concept can be applied to songs we have memorized.
Why this is important: A mini self-care session is literally one song away. No matter what song you sing or mood you’re in, singing can release built-up tension and stress in the body. It’s a win-win situation!
Music by mood: “Good vibes only”
- “Red Red Wine” – UB40
- “Gives You Hell” – The All-American Rejects
- “All Star” – Smash Mouth
- “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” – Beatles
- “Don’t Stop Me Now” – Queen
Move your body to the beat
Head bobbing. Foot tapping. Shoulder shimmying. Our bodies know an irresistible beat when it feels it. Similar to how physical activity is good for overall health, moving to music is good for the soul.
Music speaks to us through rhythm and when we listen to beats, melodies and tempos that resonate with us; we are activating movement areas of the brain. We are hardwired to detect rhythmic patterns and respond to auditory cues, which are meant to get us moving instinctively or otherwise (think of how we jump at loud sounds or rush to the baby after she shrieks from a tumble).
Read More: Why Moms Need To Dance
The research article, The Psychology of Music: Rhythm and Movement, explains:
“When we [groove] to music, we become aware of its rhythmic flow and is manifested as the feeling arising from one’s embodied experience to the music. Grooving, then, is a pleasurable response to certain musical rhythms that compel us to move.” (Levitin et al. 2018) 
Why this is important: Think about it – is it even possible to dance while in a bad mood? Movement has undeniable benefits for the mind, body and soul. Combined with a song that’s sure to get you on your feet, your worries will be the last thing on your mind.
Music by mood: “Meh. Let’s shake things up a little”
- “Nancy Mulligan” – Ed Sheeran
- “I Forgot That You Existed” – Taylor Swift
- “Lips Are Movin” – Meghan Trainor
- “I’m the One” – DJ Khaled
- “Shower” – Becky G
Music has been shown to be a transformative experience on multiple levels from shifting our mood to relieving tension from the body. It can serve as an escape from life’s daily stressors and help us release suppressed emotions. It can bring back life’s most precious memories and get us moving, increasing our overall sense of well-being.
Here’s the full list of the 20 songs suggested above. Add them to your music-by-mood playlist today!
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