Using music to process emotions and playlists to get you through finals


Music can impact emotions in a big way. We also respond to different music based on its composition and structure. 

Avery Thompson

With finals weeks coming up, you will need different tactics to help manage stress levels. There are many options to choose from, but there is one that people use daily without even realizing— music. 

Elizabeth Stegemoller, a kinesiology associate professor at Iowa State with a Bachelor’s degree in music therapy, explained the science behind the relationship between our brains and music. To summarize her explanation, music affects our brains similarly to illegal drugs. They both release dopamine and serotonin, which are associated with our feel-good moods. 

When we listen to the music of our choice, these chemicals help put us in a better mood. This is why we want to jump up and bust a move to our favorite song or belt it out while cruising down the highway. Not only does music make us feel good, but it’s also a way we can release stress.

We’ve all been in that situation where we are so upset that we feel like screaming. Most people have probably brutally butchered songs a time or two, howling out lyrics they can relate to. Though it may not sound like it, this is a good thing to do. 

“With singing you have to breathe,” Stegemoller said. “And a lot of times that deep breathing can modulate a lot of different things, like stress.”    

Listening to music is also useful while working out. Our bodies subconsciously move to the beat and rhythm of songs while we’re working out. Running on the treadmill to a fast-paced song will affect the speed you were running to initially. The music could also distract the brain from focusing on what you are doing physically, potentially increasing the body’s endurance. 

We have those songs associated with memories or emotions we have had while listening to the song. If they are positive thoughts, our brain will release serotonin and dopamine, putting us in that feel-good mood. If you feel stressed or frustrated, listening to these songs will help you get rid of those feelings.

Stegemoller’s advice is to use music as an advantage.

“Sometimes just take a music break. Take a moment and just step away from it [studying] and put on the music that you enjoy,” she said. “Stand up, listen to your music, move around, sing, dance, whatever. It can be your reward.”

She also suggests listening to relaxing music before bedtime to let your mind wind down. Stegemoller also said that music is a good way to distract you from the outside world to focus on the material in front of you (this goes for studying and working out).

If you want to dig deep into your music, you can analyze the song’s lyrics. This is another tactic that can help take your mind off of the material in front of you that is causing stress. Not only will you give your brain a break, but you can also create a deeper connection with your music. 

Ultimately, it depends on whether or not you enjoy listening to music. Some people don’t, so music might not positively affect them the way it does others. However, trying to use music as a therapeutic resource could potentially be a good option for you— maybe even the best. 

Below is a list of playlists that we created for the last couple of weeks of classes. Whether you need to get pumped or wind down, you’re sure to find what you need from these Spotify playlists. 

Study/Work Playlist

From classics like Fleetwood Mac to Billie Eilish, this playlist has everything you may need to get serious on a final project or cram session. With seven and a half hours of tunes, your whole study session will have a carefully curated soundtrack. 

Relaxing Playlist

Finals means stress, and relaxing each night is important to college students’ survival this week. Filled with soothing lo-fi beats, this playlist is perfect for cuddling up with a cup of tea at the end of the night and catching up on some self-care. 

Workout Playlist

Working out may be less of a priority at the end of a busy semester, but sometimes hitting the gym can put your head in the right place and readjust your daily mindset. The Weeknd, Megan Thee Stallion and Rihanna are some artists that will get you through the grind. 

Mood-Boosting Playlist

Whether you need to take a drive with the windows down and music blasting or have a sing/scream session with your best friends, this playlist is sure to boost your mood after a stressful semester ends. With these sing-along essentials, you’re sure to feel a little bit better after hitting shuffle.