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Playlist Therapy

I have always had a passion for crafting playlists; starting back in the day with my two-cassette boombox.

With technology change, so did my playlists. In the time of CDs, I created playlists with moody names, like “Gray Skies and Inky Waters”, “Black Lipstick and Lace”, and more. In the past year, I have been a Spotify user, and it really provided me a platform to expand my playlists on a different level. Music has an effect on my mood and can help lift me up or help me dive into myself, creating a mirror of my emotions to examine.

Five months ago, my partner of 10 years called it quits with our relationship. Having a family member recently pass away as well, I was struck with how similar the grieving process was over the death of a relationship as it was for the death of a loved one. The five stages of grief were there, with maybe a few extra emotions too. Turning to music to help myself through this process, I created a Spotify playlist called “The Five Stages of a Broken Heart.”

It might sound cheesy to those not going through that pain, but there is real science backing up the use of music as therapy. For me it was an outlet for what I was experiencing, a way for me to make sense of it all. This carefully crafted playlist really has helped me through a dark time, working through denial, bargaining, depression, anger and finally, acceptance. Hearing the lyrics of others that have gone through these emotions gives me comfort. The lyrics are really the major thing that stand out in these songs, which span from the mid-1940s with Billie Holiday’s “Good Morning Heartache” to current music, like the Overcoats’ “The Fog.”

The playlist is long, but I tend to listen to it in sections. Lately, I have been working the acceptance section with songs like Kurt Vile and Violator’s “That’s Life, tho (almost hate to say)” with lyrics like, “The laws of physics have shown that a man must walk through life by peaks and valleys.” It may sound obvious, but it reminds me that good times will come again. This is just a moment in time among many moments past and yet to come.

I found it particularly hard to find songs for the first two stages, denial and bargaining. In those section of the playlist, the song that I go back to, time and again, is James Brown’s “Goodbye My Love.” As with most of James Brown’s music, the raw emotion really is felt with his performance, backed by his amazing band, starting slow then working into a frenzy with the chorus, “I still love you!” then taking it down a bit to be more reflective as he says, “You’re throwing me away.”

The depression stage of the playlist was difficult to narrow down due to so many songs produced about this emotion. Of those numerous songs, I gravitated to LIGHTS’ “Muscle Memory” the most often. Her lyrics deal with not just the loss, but how you have to rework your habits. One line in particular really resonates with me, “Guess love is a response to the body that it haunts, and we do want it wants.” For a decade, I had this person in my daily life that was no longer there so I experienced a readjustment period of habits and thoughts. Another related song to this is Annie Lennox’s “No More I Love Yous.” I found my speech had to adjust too. No more using “we” but using “I” again.

The playlist also works really well on shuffle, as this is reflective of the churning emotions of real life. Time is a great healer, and a great music playlist can help too. Have a listen to “The Five Stages of a Broken Heart” and let me know in the comments what songs have helped you through tough times.


  1. Jason Lent says:

    Everything by Cowboy Junkies gets me through the ups and downs of life. Nice choices on Fiona Apple!

  2. Christine Cruz says:

    Thoughtful playlist, and so well rounded. Lots of great new songs and artists for me to learn about. Nice playlist!

  3. Angela Leavell says:

    Great suggestion on Cowboy Junkies. I also had a suggestion of Bruce Springsteen’s “Stolen Car”, which I have really been enjoying.

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