Can sad music help you feel better? 6 women on the sad songs that help with heartbreak

Written by Meg Walters

Whether you’re belting out a ballad in your bedroom after half a bottle of wine or you’re listening to a heart-wrenching operatic aria during your commute, studies show that listening to sad music can actually help to heal a broken heart. We spoke to six women about their favourite sad tunes for when they’re feeling down. 

There’s nothing like blasting out a sad song when you’re wallowing from a broken heart. It’s no wonder dozens of iconic heartbreak moments in film feature sad music. We all know that famous moment in Bridget Jones, for instance, when Renee Zellweger sits cross-legged on her sofa, alone at Christmas, drunkenly belting out Celine Dion’s All By Myself. Or, in Love Actually, when Emma Thompson quietly weeps to herself while listening to Clouds by Joni Mitchell after discovering her husband’s infidelity.

While you might think that sad songs will only add to your suffering, it turns out there’s a reason why we all turn to slow ballads or moving classical arias when we’re already feeling sad. According to new research highlighted in Psychology Today, sad music can help us to empathise with others and, in turn, heal heartbreak.

Can sad music heal a broken heart?

One study by researchers at the Technical University of Dresden in Germany found that sad music can generate empathy and compassion, along with a desire for a positive connection with others. This is “psychologically healing”, Douglas LaBier PhD suggests, because it helps us to expand our emotional horizons and see the bigger picture. “It draws you away from preoccupation with yourself, and possibly towards helping others in need of comfort,” he writes. Another study from the University of Kent found that “beautiful but sad” music could even improve sadness.

As LaBier summed up, sad music can sometimes leave us feeling more at peace, thus helping us get over (or at least come to terms with) a broken heart. “It expands your wellbeing and sense of engagement with something larger than just yourself,” he wrote. “A world of other people, of all of us, who are also seeking love, connection, and meaning within our finite lives.”

We spoke with six women about the songs they turn to for a cathartic cry in times of heartbreak.

Joan Armatrading, The Weakness In Me

When I was younger, I went away on holiday for the first time without my parents,” says Morgan. “My mum lent me her iPod Video (#throwback) full of her favourite songs and it was then I first discovered Joan Armatrading. The Weakness In Me quickly became my favourite song, and even though I didn’t understand the emotions Joan was referring to at the time, I understood that it was incredibly powerful. Many, many years and a couple of real heartbreaks later, it’s my go-to song to wallow to. Healing and cathartic, I won’t be without it.”

Elanor Moss, Sober

“The first time I heard Elanor Moss’s Sober on the radio, I immediately sought it out on Spotify and played it on repeat for a week,” Alex tells us. “She manages to sum up the fragility, self-doubt and anxiety of hangovers, break-ups and the other messy parts of life in the most hauntingly beautiful way. It’s a mournfully moreish listen.”

Mazzy Star, Fade Into You

“There’s probably no greater song for an ‘in your feels’ moment to rival any 90s/00s coming-of-age drama,” Amy says. “It totally encapsulates that kind of melancholy heartbreak where you truly feel like no one in the world could be more heartbroken than you. The ultimate chic soundtrack to the kind of sad mood you want to wallow in while wearing an oversized cardigan and drinking a large glass of wine.”

Taylor Swift, All Too Well (Taylor’s Version) (10 Minute Version)

“I like playing All Too Well (Taylor’s Version) (10 Minute Version) when I’m feeling down because I can moodily stare out of the bus window and imagine I’m the character in her story,” says Louise. “It takes me out of my world for a second. By the time the 10 minutes are over, sometimes I don’t feel so sad anymore.”

Prince, Purple Rain

Purple Rain has to be my go-to sad song,” says Emily. “I’ve been turning to it in times of need since I was a kid and my mum first played it for me. And it just gets better with age. That guitar solo is always so cathartic.”

Images: Getty

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