Blue Monday: How Music Can Act As A Salve In Times Of Crisis

"Head through a blue haze / Waiting for the musical craze..."

According to some pseudo-science bullshit, Blue Monday – typically the third Monday of January – is claimed to be the most depressing day of the year. There’s a reason why actual scientists deride this notion as nonsensical: life would be a whole lot easier if there was only one day in the year where we all felt depressed.

Truth is, generally, depression is not a seasonal trend; it creeps up on you intermittently and when you least expect it, and usually at the most inconvenient times. As we all know, depression and anxiety are debilitating illnesses. For me it culminates in a brief period of crippling self-doubt, and no amount of validation can save me from it. Exciting opportunities become inconveniences that lead to fallacious internal monologues: “am I even good enough for the job?” is a perpetual theme.

As a result, deadlines are missed in abundance, and emails pile up but remain unopened. This was the way of my world a few weeks ago, until I received an email from Clash’s online editor: ‘Blue Monday’ was the subject line; “how can music act as a salve in times of crisis?” was the contents.

One thing that typically helps evade a bad headspace is being productive. Everyone needs to find catharsis in something – a distraction, even. Listening to and writing about music is mine. Unfortunately, with depression comes idleness, and it takes a vast amount of willpower to help yourself. Once you take those first steps, though, you start to see some light in the darkness.

As with a lot of people, music is fundamental to my identity: there’s barely a day in the week where I’m not at some show somewhere. Discovering a new, exciting band or putting on a gig can make the world of difference during a particularly bad month.

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It’s generally accepted that both listening to and creating music can have various positive effects on your mood. Incorporating music into your everyday life can elevate your mood and motivation, aid relaxation, and increase the efficiency of your brain processing. Indeed, listening to a song can change everything.

A powerful enough song can even change your life. Music can teach what humanity cannot always – how to be human, live, feel and love. When things aren’t going right, we’re given myriad options to counteract this: meditation, therapy and medication being a few.

Sometimes, though, it’s as simple as turning up your favourite music and tuning out for a few minutes before you attempt to figure everything out again. There’s also a lot to be said for a good old fashioned playlist. Common knowledge dictates that happy music is best for lifting one’s spirit, but nothing connects you emotionally to music as much as a sad song does.

I have an entire playlist specifically made for depressive episodes, and almost every song on it is devastatingly sad. Sure, there’s the risk of making things worse – usually because sad songs make us ruminate more – but perhaps we like the emotional journey; the idea that someone somewhere is going through the same thing as you.

No-one should ever underestimate the healing power of the break-up song, either: it’s the perfect time to get emotional relief from the art of melancholy. You see, music is important to the human condition in so many ways but more than anything it has an astonishing tendency to help relationships flourish. When we associate someone we care about with a particular song, that song becomes a part of you. When the relationship breaks down, that song becomes tainted.

There are two ways of dealing with this: trying everything in your power to elude it, or stick it on repeat and cry it out until it no longer affects you emotionally. There’s a reason why I struggled to listen to ‘Part Company’ by The Go-Betweens for so long: the line, “that’s her handwriting, that’s the way she writes", never fails to tug at the heart-strings, despite the fact it’s not even a break-up song. I’ve shared some of the most beautiful, life-altering experiences with family, partners and friends because of music.

Those unspoken moments of quiet adoration between two people when a song you both love comes on is an incomparable feeling. For example, the special relationship I have with my mum is built on a mutual appreciation of David Bowie, and Neil Young is one of few things my dad and I bond over.

When Mark E. Smith died, it was a particularly emotional time not only because he was the front-man of my favourite group but also without him I probably wouldn’t have met my best friend at one of their gigs years ago. Music can act as a salve in times of crisis because it’s so deeply easy to relate to and because it’s an all-encompassing part of our lives. It is one of few reliable constants we have.

As a music journalist, it’s my job to be analytical and pick things apart. Writing about music acts as a distraction from my own depression, but listening to it without an agenda is what really heals me. There are even moments when it can change your perspective on everything without ever really realising it.

It’s a sentimental trope, but as long as you have your favourite music, you’ll never truly feel alone.

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Words: Hayley Scott

Image via.

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