Can Music Help Fight the Winter Blues?

Issue # 
December 14, 2022

As the holiday season kicks into full-swing and Mariah Carey’s annual Christmas call-to-arms hits the airwaves, you may be feeling a shift in your mood that seems to kick in around this time each year. 

Notice your mindstate changing each winter? You’re hardly the only one. As many as 1 in 20 people have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). True to the acronym, people with SAD may spend the winter months feeling more sluggish, sleepy, depressed or uninterested in activities they used to enjoy.

But while many of us realize that the shifting seasons can affect our mood, it’s a bit less well-known that there are ways to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder – including music therapy. Ready to learn more about how to get the most out of the psychological benefits of music in our collective effort to turn those winter frowns upside-down? Tune in and start scrolling – everything you need to know to tackle SAD with music soundtracks lies below!

What Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD is a type of depression affecting millions of people around the world where a change in seasons literally affects their behavior. Often described colloquially as the “winter blues”, the symptoms of SAD include far more than sadness. Common traits include irritability, depression, lethargy, trouble concentrating feelings of hopelessness, and even carb cravings.  

While these symptoms tend to resolve themselves in the spring and summer for most, SAD isn’t strictly limited to the winter months. A less common version kicks in for some people during the spring and summer, resulting in similar symptoms that resolve during the winter months. Regardless, SAD, once diagnosed, is something to take seriously.

While it may seem like a temporary irritant from the outside looking in, it’s important to realize that SAD is a form of depression – and is just as capable of becoming a debilitating burden while its in effect. Who wants to spend months out of every single year an unhappier, less active version of themselves? Especially when an alternative exists: much like broader-scale depression, several treatments in the years since SAD hit the public consciousness have since become available. 

How Sad Is Typically Treated

It’s quite possible you first heard of SAD via “SAD lamps” or light boxes. These tools are thought to be a fundamental part of the physiology with SAD. While the specific cause of SAD is unknown, the notion behind light therapy (or phototherapy) is that some people simply need more of those good old sun rays – which are notoriously lacking during the winter months in most regions. SAD lamps utilize a type of light different from our traditional indoor bulbs to help nourish those who might be struggling from a lack of natural light. But there’s more ways to treat SAD than a new lamp.

Let There Be (More Than) Light

When the lights go off, there’s plenty of science behind the fact that music therapy offers psychological benefits to those struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Music can trigger the brain to produce prolactin, the hormone produced when mothers nurse their infants. It’s also clinically proven to reduce stress and anxiety –which can help affect the onset of SAD. And a 2014 study concluded that music therapy alleviated the symptoms of SAD in elderly patients. 

So Take Two T-Swifts And Call Me In The Morning?

Not quite. While music is a powerful trigger of memory – not all of those memories may necessarily be comforting. In fact, holiday-specific and Christmas music, at least according to one psychologist, can be a potential catalyst of emotions that are more aggravating than therapeutic to our mental health.

But that doesn’t mean you should limit your wintertime soundtracks to the strictly secular – or happy-go-lucky. A 2015 study found that, surprisingly, patients with depression didn’t just prefer listening to sad music – they felt better after hearing it. And there’s even more evidence backing the therapeutic power of listening to music that mimics your sad state and then gradually transitions towards a desired mood (called the “iso principle,” which was tested and shown to have the best results in one study). 

So whether you’re the type to mope to R.E.M.’s finest, bop along to Pharrel, or bring on the Beethoven, tapping into your emotions and matching the music accordingly to comfort you is key when engaging in music therapy.

More Than One Way To Listen

Just like what you listen to matters, how you choose to listen can help impact your mood. Active listening by consciously engaging with the tune and lyrics as the song unfolds was clinically proven to help manage the perception of cancer-related symptoms in patients. But you don’t need to stay glued to your speakers in order to reap the mood modulating benefits of music. The same study showed that passive listening was also effective at helping patients manage their symptoms, showing the therapeutic effects of music, even when it’s simply playing in the background.

Take On The Seasons With A Music Therapy App

When winter’s chill starts to literally take an emotional toll on you, it’s easy to feel alone. It’s why Spiritune collaborates with music therapists, neuroscientists, and music composers to maintain a therapeutic knowledge base rolled into music soundtrack app personalized for your emotional state wherever your day takes you, at every time of the year – from the peak of summer to the depths of winter. Ready to stop the SAD? Turn to music with the Spiritune app and discover a healthier soundtrack to the holiday season.

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