Coping with Grief and Stress Through Music

5 minutes before writing this, I finished a splendid documentary called My Beautiful Broken Brain. It details a year in the life of Lotje Sodderland, a woman who had a stroke which severely impaired her language comprehension. I’d highly recommend it – the terminology and treatment is explained so well that anyone can appreciate what Sodderland has to endure. Through her recovery, she learns to tackle many complex ideas, like -what defines existence? And what is our perception of that existence? Does the brain control the mind, or vice versa? At the end of the documentary, Lotje meets her idol David Lynch, a talented American director and screenwriter, and learns from him that amongst the many answers to these questions, there are in fact no definite answers at all.

Lotje Sodderland, 'My Beautiful Broken Brain, Image from

Lotje Sodderland, ‘My Beautiful Broken Brain’, Image from

So, why am I telling you this?

Because throughout Lotje’s revelation (and her great meeting with Lynch, and even finding a husband) beautiful French music is played. Whether it was a director’s intent or not, I found that the sweet, placid musings of a foreign language (foreign to me at least!) stood in place for a greater metaphor for the human condition. Simply put, I believe that metaphor is; we may not always understand life and the diverse experiences it has to offer. But we can appreciate and relish in the overall picture it provides us with, in the same way we appreciate the overall aural experience of a language different to our own.

Music allows us and invites us to explore this empowering state of mind whenever we need it most, as Lotje did during the loss of her reading and writing. More importantly, when we go through dark times that are shadowed by hardship, music can help us process the events in a way that is not always possible to articulate. From the loss of someone special to everyday disappointments, many people turn to music first, because unlike writing or talking, music encapsulates the rawness of being so overwhelmed and consumed by the emotions that they seem beyond expressing. Though this experience is a deeply personal one, music can allow people to share this feeling and connect in a unique way. It’s a complicated phenomenon, one that is super hard to write about in a succinct, one track mind manner. So I’ll aim to focus on how music can allow you to appreciate life experiences as a whole journey despite some impending shadows.

1)      Distraction

You missed your trusty train and now are going to be horridly late for work, school, life! No doubt this is on the lighter end of what we shall call the spectrum of Dark Experiences, but listening to an upbeat pop hit or lyrical childhood favourite (Disney, Disney, Disney!) can help to save your productive morning vibes from going sour whilst you wait for your next ride!

2)      You are Not Alone

Nasty, abrupt break up? No? Slow, agonizing breakup? You and your theater-loving, almost perfect bestie audition for the same musical, and they got a part and you didn’t? There is a song for that! Experiences that reflect pre-conceived ideas of your inadequacy in relation to not being good enough can be particularly turbulent to experience for any teenager. All your hormones conspire against your brain to make you think you are the only one who is doomed to be left out or second best forever. Songs are great because you can first listen to a few that let you stew and utterly ferment in the gross, dramatic injustice of it all (a perfectly normal and healthy behaviour!). Then, you can listen to a few more songs that directly contrast this emotional upheaval and instead trigger a thought or memory in which you were (and still are) the boss that can bounce back from anything!

3)      Irreversible loss

Not going to lie here, this part was the hardest to write, as people go through this end of the Dark Experiences spectrum at different times, and in different ways.This may seem obvious, but it’s a point worth establishing, as although music can be a brilliant emotional cure, sometimes even music can’t relieve the pain.

Nothing can cure the suffocating, isolating emotion of grief or major conflict. Like Lotje discovered, there is no one answer to what soothes, or helps us even compartmentalise emotions like that- but music can help understand the purpose and place these emotions have in our lives.

Music can be the place where these feelings are given clear-cut, designated time and place to reign over your body (ie. make you cry, scream into a pillow, or eat a few dozen salted caramel macaroons!). Then, you can put them to rest, and you will get a rest too.

I thought about recommending songs for each Dark Experience, but then reminded myself that part of calling upon the intrinsic power of music is about the journey of self discovery. Which is totally the fun part. You and your subconscious can choose your own adventure and select tracks which resonate with every aspect of yourself – from the insane, fan-girling side of you to the little fragments of sadness and vulnerability that glint within us all.

taylor bio picccTaylor Carre-Riddell

Taylor is a 19 year old Melbournian who enjoys writing, studying psychology and a good fan girling session.

You might also be interested in these posts: