A Verywell Report: Music Helped Most of Us Get Through the Pandemic

gif of girl dancing and singing to music

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

There’s something about hearing your favorite song on the radio that can suddenly turn a boring commute into an exciting adventure. And it’s almost magical how listening to your playlist can turn a bad day into a good night.

Music is powerful. It affects our brains, our bodies, and our social connections. And there’s no doubt that many people have relied on music to get through the pandemic.

The pandemic brought most social activities to a screeching halt for over a year. We weren’t allowed to eat in restaurants, exercise in gyms, meet with friends, or visit with extended family. So many of us were left feeling bored, anxious, and lonely.

Stay-at-home orders meant many of our “go-to” coping skills were taken away. Fortunately, most of us were still able to access music. So here at Verywell Mind, we wanted to learn how many people relied on music to cope with the pandemic, and whether those people found that music did in fact help their mental health.

Music Improves Our Mental Health

Music can have profound effects on our physical and psychological well-being. Researchers have discovered it can lessen pain, reduce depression, and decrease anxiety. This is why music therapy is often used as a strategy to treat a variety of physical, emotional, cognitive, and social issues.

Of course, you probably don’t need a detailed study to recognize the benefits of music. You may have already noticed that listening to or creating music helps you feel better.

A whopping 97% of our survey respondents said that they use music as a tool to help their mental health.

Here are some of the things our readers gain from music:

  • Relaxation – Many readers expressed that music helps them stop thinking about unpleasant things and to relax their brains and bodies instead. One of them stated, “Music takes me away from the stress of the day.”
  • Inspiration/Spirituality – While many readers specifically listen to religious music, others feel that listening to any music is a spiritual experience for them. One person put it this way, “Music is felt in your soul. It's uplifting, comforting, inspiring.”
  • Boost in mood – Some people enjoy listening to songs that remind them of the best times in their lives. Others say that certain genres of music lift their spirits. One reader commented, “It hits a spot in my brain that makes me happier!”
  • An outlet to process/express difficult emotions - Music helps some people deal with specific feelings, like anger. It helps others express how they feel without having to use words. Another respondent noted, “It helps me express and process my current feelings.”

We Relied on Music to Get Through the Pandemic

The stress of the pandemic combined with stay-at-home orders left many people reaching for music to help them get through tough times. An overwhelming 79% of our readers said they turned to music during the pandemic to cope.

While readers had different reasons for turning to music, the vast majority of them said they used music to cheer themselves up. Other top reasons people listened to or created music included feeling less stressed, changing their moods, and distracting themselves from unpleasant thoughts and feelings.

Music Helped Us Stay Connected While Social Distancing

Some people used music as a solitary activity by playing it as background noise while they went about their daily activities. Others used music as a means to connect with people.

We saw how music joined neighbors together in Italy as videos emerged on social media showing Italians singing from their balconies. While under full lockdown, they managed to sing and dance with one another, showing how music was still able to bring people together even when they couldn’t be in the same physical space.

Here in the United States, a Facebook Group called “Quarantine Karaoke” attracted more than three-quarters of a million people who sang songs for each other on social media. Clearly, many used music to combat loneliness.

One in five readers said they used music as a way to connect with others during the pandemic. Whether they were watching an online concert or shared conversations about new artists they discovered, music helped people feel less lonely.

How We Used Music

As music festivals were canceled and bars that played music were forced to lock their doors, many people had to change the way they experienced music.

While some played music in the background as they worked from home, others used their time to discover new artists or styles of music. Here are some of the things our readers did during the pandemic.

A Word of Caution About Music and Depression

Sometimes, an upbeat song can give you a much-needed boost when you’re feeling down. But there may be times you find yourself turning to a sad song when you’re already feeling depressed.

Forty-three percent of readers who listen to music reported that more often than not, they’re using music to reinforce the mood they’re already in. And while this can be helpful when feeling good, music can also reinforce unpleasant feelings.

People who are depressed are more likely to listen to music that reinforces their depression. Research shows that a person who ruminates—which is highly predictive of depression—will likely be attracted to music that intensifies depression.

Other studies have found that people with depression are not always able to select music that will help them feel better. Consequently, they keep listening to music that reinforces their feelings.

So it’s important to consider how the music you’re listening to is actually impacting your mental health. If you aren’t sure, don’t be afraid to ask someone else for a second opinion on whether your musical choices might be helping or hurting you. It’s hard to be objective about it if you’re already feeling depressed.

A Word From Verywell

Clearly, music has the ability to help us feel better—if we understand our moods and the type of music that can help us regulate our feelings. It was a coping skill that helped many people deal with the emotional turmoil of the pandemic.

Listening to upbeat songs might be key to helping you feel happier. But if you find yourself struggling to find “happy songs,” there’s a reason for that. Music has become increasingly sad and angry over the last 50 years, according to a 2018 study in the Journal of Popular Music Studies.

So the editorial team at Verywell Mind decided to create a list of songs that might be good for your mental health. Here’s a playlist you can reach for when you want a boost in mood.

METHODOLOGY

This survey was fielded online to the Verywell Mind newsletter and social media readers on 4/21/21 - 04/27/21. The total sample consisted of 1,031 U.S. adults who listen to music.

 Demographics are as follows:

  • GENDER: Woman 73% | Man 25% | Nonbinary or self-identify 0% | No answer 2%
  • AGE: Gen Z 2% | Millennials 8% | Gen X 22% | Boomers 58% | Silent Gen 10% 
  • REGION: Midwest 22% | Northeast 26% | South 29% | West 23% | U.S. Territories 0%
  • RACE/ETHNICITY (multi select): White 73% | Black or African American 9% | Hispanic/Latino or Latinx 6% | Asian 3% | Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 0% | American Indian/Alaska Native 1% | Middle Eastern/ North African 1% | Another background 3% | No Answer 6%
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Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Garrido S., Schubert E. Moody melodies: do they cheer us up? A study of the effect of sad music on mood. 2015. Psychol. Music 43 244–261. 10.1177/0305735613501938

  2. Wilhelm K., Gilllis I., Schubert E., Whittle E. L. On a blue note: depressed people’s reasons for listening to music. Music Med. 2013. 5 ;76–83. doi:10.1177/1943862113482143

  3. Kathleen Napier, Lior Shamir; Quantitative Sentiment Analysis of Lyrics in Popular Music. Journal of Popular Music Studies 4 December 2018; 30 (4): 161–176. doi:10.1525/jpms.2018.300411