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Music is Powerful: Don't Derail the Train

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at



If you’re anything like me, music has shaped my life since I was a child. Do you remember the sing-song rhymes like “the Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly”, “Rock-a- Bye Baby”, “the Wheels on the Bus?” Such memories of carefree days with muddy knees and grass stained clothes (or was it playing Mario Bros. on Nintendo – who doesn’t remember that music!)

How many of you expanded your musical interests exponentially in college? Those days bring back great memories for me. Risking to expose myself as a geek, I had never once heard of the Grateful Dead until college! Very small town.

Take a look at your iPhone, mp3 player, etc. and browse the music that you like or are moved by. Any patterns? (I’m not talking about your work out music.)

Does music evoke pleasant memories? Happy times like hanging out with friends, the seventh inning stretch, listening when studying (or not), when you met your g/f, b/f, best friend or your wedding?

If you suffer from depression, dark, sad, meaningful music can have a greater negative effect on your mood.

Does some music evoke sad, lonely, angry memories? Someone you love dies, attending a college 1,000 miles from home, a song when you got into a fight? If you suffer from depression, dark, sad music can have a greater negative effect on your mood.

Do you notice background music and how it impacts you? Do you know that grocery stores pick slow songs intentionally slowing you down to increase the probability of impulse purchases? You might even feel yourself walking to the slowness of the beat. Music is powerful no matter how it is delivered.

Sometimes sad songs can darken your mood without you being aware, especially if you are sentimental, sensitive and/or depressed. While this is not true for everyone, it’s important to consider as a factor when your mood plummets.

Here are a few common ways you may listen to music:

  • Listening to the radio.

  • Hanging out with friends.

  • Recalling a song and the context around it.

  • Someone singing the song.

  • A band covering the song.

  • iPhone/mp3 player.

Headphones/earbuds can further darken your mood because it separates you from conversation and socializing with others. Isolation is one of the signs of depression.

Do you need to give up music? ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!

You have the power to change your mood!

Empower yourself from plunging into a dark mood when you hear sad music:

Watch for Physical Changes:

  • Weakness, tense, weepy.

  • An empty feeling inside.

  • A tenseness or upset stomach.

  • Anxious, irritable or angry.

  • Slowing down, losing motivation.

Changes in Thoughts:

  • Think of the song and wish you could have done things differently at that time.

  • Dwell on the song, lyrics and its meaning overtaking your thoughts.

  • Dwell on that song for hours or all day.

Changes in Behavior:

  • Isolate yourself from everyone for a few hours even sitting in the dark.

  • Wallow in your dark mood for hours to sustain the mood (such as when trying to sleep or listening to your stereo.)

  • Feel stuck in this mood and decreasing your activities.

  • Cry incessantly and can’t seem to stop.

Don’t derail the train

You have the power to keep it on track.

What does that mean?

There is a concept in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) that teaches people not to derail the train. You are the train. You are in control of the train as much as you can be. You can acknowledge the music for what it is, allow yourself to choose not to act on it, and keep the train on course. You can listen to it and have no ill effects. How? Be mindful, so that you have power over the dark music and you will not allow the train to derail. Look at the numerous signs above and notice they can be red flags for the train to careen off course. Switching the channel or diverting your attention are great examples to continue on course.

Music is powerful. It can have a negative effect on you, especially if you are depressed. You have the ability to stay on track and enjoy your music!

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