A pair of headphones, earbuds or — dare I say it — AirPods fall into the same level of necessity as backpacks when it comes to college student essentials. There’s nothing quite like the drop in my stomach when I realize that I left my headphones in my dorm, doomed to a day without music to get me through my walks across campus and those awkward interactions I’d rather avoid by jamming out to Frank Ocean. Headphones even got an honorable mention in Martha Pollack’s New Student Convocation last semester for their widespread use around campus.
The science regarding music and mental health isn’t fully conclusive, but there is some evidence linking music with positive health outcomes. Anecdotally, I know what I’m listening to deeply impacts (and is impacted by) my mental health. It’s been suggested that sad music provides a source of empathy and connection for people, helping them feel that someone understands what they’re going through, be it heartbreak or other kinds of loss. However, “Some ways of coping with negative emotion, such as rumination, which means continually thinking over negative things, are linked to poor mental health” and listening to majorly sad or aggressive music can lead to “expression of negative feelings” that even show up on fMRI scans.
On the flip side, listening to happy or upbeat music can reduce stress, motivate people to workout harder and improve one’s mood. While I always like some science to back me up, I’ve also personally found that on days when I’m already feeling off, listening to sad or “angsty” music sure doesn’t help me get out of that state. In a society where media is everywhere, it can be hard to consume all of it mindfully, but focusing on what music I’ve been listening to has been worth the extra effort. Making playlists to cultivate a feeling I want, including but not limited to “pretend you aren’t freaking out while studying,” has become somewhat of a hobby and a fun way to explore new music. It’s also interesting and enjoyable to explore what music makes you happy. For example, I know someone who is made happier by listening to “You Are My Sunshine” because of positive memories associated with it. “Step by Step” by Whitney Houston makes me think of my mom playing music in our kitchen and Ray Charles reminds me of car rides with my dad and sister. For all the hate it gets, “Yummy” reminds me of a friend who unapologetically loves Justin Beiber.
Let’s end on a high note: Check out this playlist! (Feel free to email me suggestions and I’ll add to it.) And above all: Don’t forget your headphones!
Emma Smith is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Emmpathy appears every other Friday this semester.