Music & Coregulation

There are lots of ways that music can be beneficial to our mental health. Music is a great tool for coregulation; it can help with stress management and even help us to express our emotions.


Have you ever listened to a song that just connected with you in some way? What was it about it – was it the lyrics? The instrumentals? Sometimes it’s just a feeling. And it might not even be happy, joyful songs that feel the most powerful to you. In Susan Cain’s book Bittersweet, she notes research that shows that melancholic music can bring out a sense of longing and deep connection with others. When you’re listening to music – whether it is happy, angry, mournful – be curious about your feelings and what comes up for you.


A 2022 qualitative study found that choral singing can help to improve mental and physical well being, both through expression of feelings and through connection to others. If singing is something you enjoy, notice what feels good about it. How do you feel before singing, and how do you feel during and after? Maybe you notice less tension in your shoulders, or a decrease in anxiety symptoms. If singing feels good to you, consider joining a community choir, looking for a concert to go to with friends, or simply making time to sing along to your favorite songs.


Another way to engage with music can be to create a regulating playlist. Think about songs that bring you peace of mind, a sense of calm, or a feeling of deep connectedness. Create a playlist of songs that make you feel this way. Notice how these songs make your body feel: do you notice tension releasing or muscles relaxing? You can use this playlist to help bring your mind and body back to this regulated space.


Music can also be a way to be creative, which can be useful for our minds and bodies. Dr. Dan Siegel’s Healthy Mind Platter for Optimal Brain Matter identifies several ways we can engage our brain to help optimize our mental health and overall functioning. One of these is through playtime, or time we set aside for creativity and fun. Maybe learning the ukulele, revisiting piano songs you played as a child, or engaging in songwriting are areas that feel creative and playful to you. If that’s the case, think about carving out some intentional time for this in your life.


Finding ways to regulate ourselves can sometimes be a challenge, so if music feels helpful and accessible to you, talk to your therapist about ways to incorporate it as part of your mental health self-care. If music and mental health feels like an important connection for you, you can also seek out certified music therapists in your local area.


Blog by Kristin Southworth, MA, LPCC
Photo by Charlotte May via Pexels


Cain, S. (2022). Bittersweet: How sorrow and longing make us whole. New York: Crown.
Damsgaard JB, Brinkmann S. Me and us: Cultivating presence and mental health through choir singing. Scand J Caring Sci. 2022; 36: 1134–1142.
Dana, D. (2020). Polyvagal Exercises for Safety and Connection: 50 client-centered practices. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Siegel, D. (2011). The Healthy Mind Platter. Dr. Dan Siegel.