To what extent does music have the power to make us feel better?

Emotional dysregulation and listening to the War on Drugs

Chelsey Flood
4 min readFeb 2, 2022


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Throughout my life I have enjoyed listening to melancholy music and sinking into the deep sadness that seems to reside in my gut.

I think this started in my late teens. I recall answering my bedroom door to my housemate in halls with a tearful expression and some kind of powerfully sad music blasting.

“I’m just thinking about my step-dad,” I explained. He was ill in hospital, and it wasn’t clear he was ever coming out. She smiled sympathetically.

“That music won’t help,” she said gently, and I felt affronted. Because it was helping. Wasn’t it?

Since I quit drinking and worked on finding healthier coping mechanisms I have started to question my use of music to manipulate my emotions.

I pause before listening to the very sad music that I love, and check in whether it will be helpful.

And I wonder what part my penchant for music to kill yourself to has had on my struggles with emotional regulation.

I still love the Smiths and Morrissey and Radiohead, but I can’t relate to the sad songs in the same way I used to. I’m not sure I could tolerate the deep dive into the sadness hits that I used to make regularly anymore.

It used to piss me off when friends suggested that the music I was listening to was making my sadness (depression?) worse. But could they have been right?

Listening to the War on Drugs last night, I was as taken as ever with the beautiful, swampy music, but a part of me chirped up unkindly to some of the lyrics.

Untreated addiction and mental health, that part of me thought as the lead singer crowed about suffering.

I remember going to see the band live. There was a story about how Adam Granduciel had emerged from a period of depression and anxiety with this career-making album.

I sympathised with him and possibly felt helpful. Would I, some day, emerge from this sad, anxious, heavy drinking phase with a book that the world would adore?