A Playlist for Desperate Times: Music to Help Deal With Major Stress

A Playlist for Desperate Times: Music to Help Deal With Major Stress (Kong Ding Chek via Getty Images)

Stress is part of the human condition. Young people especially have a lot on their plates with things like exams, planning a future or even just making it through the day. However, one healthy way of coping is through music. Some studies show that listening to music can improve mental health. So, here is a playlist to get you through the different stressors that life can bring. 

Dealing with major life changes

Most young people, at some point or another, face major life changes like going to college or moving to a new city. I remember what it was like — here are some songs that helped me get through it. 

Chappell Roan – “Naked in Manhattan”

I think it’s easy to get caught up in worrying about whether or not you are making the right decisions. However, obsessing over a decision can result in us not making one at all. This song is a reminder that it’s better to make a move and to mess up than to not do anything at all. 

Chappell Roan – “Pink Pony Club

This song to me is about finding your place in the world, even if it means having to give something up to find it. In the song, it talks about having to leave the familiarity of their hometown in Tennessee. Being in a new environment for a lot of people can be scary but also exciting and fun if you’re willing to give it a chance. 

When you “Don’t know what to do”  

The feeling I don’t know what to do when having an existential crisis is something that never quite goes away. It’s uneasy realizing you don’t know how to change a tire, or how to handle a particularly sticky situation at work. Even if music may not solve your problems, having some music that helps you feel less alone can make life a lot easier. 

Dolly Parton – “9 to 5”

It can be hard to dream when people try to tell you that it’s not possible. However, Dolly Parton’s personality in this song serves as a reminder to keep dreaming, even when life gets so hard you want to curl up in your bed and pretend like the world does not exist. Dreaming is an important part of getting up early, going to class and feeling motivated to study for that exam. “9 to 5” is an important reminder that things do get better. 

Cyndi Lauper – “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”

I have this little narrator voice in my head when I listen to this song. The narration is about leaving your small town behind and moving to a big city. It may sound silly, but I think it helps me when I am feeling hopeless.

Heart – “Crazy on You

The electric rhythm to this song helps me when I’m feeling overstimulated. This song helps ground me when my head is too in the clouds or I’m feeling stressed. I mean, nothing will put you back into reality like an electric guitar that’s loud enough to disrupt any distractions. 

When you’re overwhelmed

Life can get overwhelming, especially with the start of the school year. Between midterms, finals seasons or busy work weeks, life can get extremely stressful. Amidst the chaos of life’s responsibilities, calming music usually keeps me going and reminds me to slow down a bit. 

Jhené Aiko – “Jukai

Jukai’s melody and lyrics serve as a reminder that life has its ups and downs. Life can get stressful and overwhelming, but there are also beautiful aspects of life and reasons why we should keep moving forward. 

Steve Lacy – “Daze”

Daze is part of an album called “The Lo-Fis” by Steve Lacy, an album that’s full of relaxing music. To me, the song is part of a general piece of work that you can listen to for comfort, but it is also so easy to keep on in the background to create an overall relaxing energy in my mind.

Jhené Aiko – “Surrender”

Much of Jhene Aiko’s music is about coming to terms with difficult realities. The reason why this song is so impactful is defined in the title — surrendering to the difficult things that are happening in life can be a wonderful starting point for problem-solving or moving on. 

Men I Trust – “Serenade of Water “

This song is a lot like “Daze,” in that the tune reminds me that I can still breathe and find moments of peace amidst any stress coming my way. “Serenade of Water” is one of those songs that reminds you to stop in your tracks before a spiral — hopefully saving yourself from it. 

Matt Martians – “Southern Isolation 2”

Bossa nova songs are renowned for instilling a sense of peace. Southern Isolation 2 has components of bossa nova rhythms and effortlessly makes my mind slow down. 

When you need an escape

Sometimes, the present moment can make you feel trapped. When this happens, it can be comforting to escape from reality for even a moment and live in a fantasy land. In my experience, taking a moment to enter a different world can help me to relax and cope with high-stress levels. 

CARTOONS – Homegrown”

Some songs just effortlessly make people want to sink into their seats. Homegrown is a song that feels like letting go and accepting the present.

Tyler the Creator – “Hot Wind Blows

Tyler the Creator’s knack for storytelling is undeniable — especially in “Hot Wind Blows.” The scenery that he describes throughout the song serves as an escape from the present moment — instead, you’re transported to Lake Geneva, surrounded by a perfect breeze. 

Anaïs Cardot – “Colors”

“Colors” is a song that easily helps to transport a listener to a relaxing world. Her high-pitched and comforting voice immerses listeners in an immediate trance. 

Frank Ocean “Pink + White”

“Pink + White” is a song that highlights Frank Ocean’s storytelling skills. The melody and the melancholic lyrics transport me to memories of uplifting moments in my life — which can be a perfect way to find a temporary escape. 

Stereolab – “The Flower Called Nowhere

Stereolab’s music is dreamy, and they feel like a soundtrack to boundless imagination! The Flower Called Nowhere is the perfect soundtrack for a mental escape. 

Kali Uchis – “Coming Home

Songs with heavy bass like “Coming Home” feel like a reset button. And, Kali Uchis’ dreamy voice compliments the melody perfectly to alleviate my stress and help me find even a moment of peace. 

Emma Schulman, (she/they) is a student journalist studying political science at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Ivelisse Diaz, (she/they) is a college student studying psychology from Oakland, California.

Edited by Shaylyn Martos

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