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Mental Health

“Sad Girl Fall” Is Here, But Is It Healthy?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Hot girl summer has officially been over for a couple of months, and now we’re in the midst of “sad girl fall.” Between cozy, oversized sweaters, mugs of warm drinks, crying to Adele songs, and revisiting old Taylor Swift playlists while feeling nostalgic about our exes, music can help make these long nights feel a little more bearable. However, is listening to sappy music during “sad girl fall” actually healthy for us? Her Campus spoke with licensed music therapist Mabel Guzman to learn about how sad girl fall impacts our mental and emotional health.

What is ‘sad girl fall’?

Autumn tends to be a harder season for many people compared to summer, its laidback predecessor. Long school and work days, cold and flu season, fewer hours of sunlight, and more time indoors can stir up many difficult thoughts and emotions, making us feel lower than usual during this time of year. As a result, we get sad girl fall, a time when people generally feel more “down.”

According to a 2019 study published in Evolutionary Psychological Science, knowing that fall and winter are approaching can trigger us to feel threatened by our external environment — even before the seasons actually change. Psychologists define this phenomenon as the “environmental security hypothesis,” stating that when we feel threatened by our external environment, we turn towards external objects and people (cough, cough: musicians) to regain a sense of meaning and groundedness. For many people, colder months also welcome the onset of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a condition in which people experience depressive symptoms during the winter and fall months. Because of this, you might feel inspired to turn to nostalgic or gloomier music as a source of comfort, even if you aren’t experiencing any direct lifestyle changes. This type of music helps you relate to and find a sense of meaning in whatever you are facing both internally and externally. 

During the fall, the days are shorter, making time feel more precious in general. In many places around the world, colder weather motivates people to turn “inward,” which makes introspection common this time of year. Although time is moving forward, autumn is often a time for returning to nostalgia, old ways, and even routines from childhood; for example, returning to your dorm, seeing family, practicing holiday traditions, and more.

artists Release ‘Sad Girl’ Songs

While emotionally-heavy songs are not specific to one season, autumn seems to be home to the largest quantity of them. Researchers have conducted studies revealing that audiences’ listening habits tend to vary by season, and they also fluctuate depending on what current events are taking place in society. This makes sense, particularly if we look back at the songs released during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as OneRepublic’s “Better Days” and Bono’s “Let Your Love Be Known.” So, along with artists releasing generally “sad” songs during the fall and winter months, we might also be more likely to listen to them.

Kacey Musgraves’s latest album, star-crossed, which was released on September 10th, might be considered the inaugural piece marking sad girl fall 2021. The album’s opening song, “star-crossed,” enters with chilling vocals reminiscent of a church choir in a dark, musky room. The album guides listeners through the story of Kacey’s marriage in its entirety — starting with its “Golden Hour” to the aftermath of its fiery divorce. The album can be seen as symbolizing the never-ending process of death, rebirth, and transformative growth we go through periods of deep introspection.

Adele’s latest single, “Easy On Me” is perhaps the prime example of sad girl fall. The piece became Spotify’s most-streamed song less than 24 hours after its’ release and represents a sense of longing and exposing our deepest emotional wounds — feelings that often lie at the heart of sad girl fall. Adele credits her divorce from Simon Konechi and the painful experiences she went through with her son as being the main sources of inspiration for the piece. In an interview with Vogue, Adele shares that her upcoming album “30”, set to be released on November 19, represents “self-destruction, then self-reflection and then sort of self-redemption.” The moving story of Adele’s personal renewal and transformation is one we can all learn from — not to mention it’s the perfect example of an emotional, sad girl season.

Other artists whose work is reminiscent of sad girl fall include Taylor Swift, Phoebe Bridgers, Lorde, Céline Dion, and Billie Eilish. Although each of these artists has their own distinct flair, the heart of their work focuses on exposing the power lying in deep vulnerability and introspection. They take what could be seen as negative experiences and regenerate them into something powerful and transformative through self-expression and artistic creation.

Music & Our Mental Health

According to a 2012 study posted in Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, sad music helps us connect to, process, and move deep emotions in a healthy way. Sad music can help us recognize that there is inherently nothing wrong with our experiences of the world, no matter how emotional they are, and it’s always possible to transform them into a positive experience. Sitting with pain and indulging in art helps connect us to the universal human experience, and can even make us kinder, more compassionate, and more understanding people in the long-term.

Mabel Guzman, a licensed music therapist, and social worker reaffirms this message when speaking with Her Campus. She shares that music can stir up complex emotions, but it can also help us transform experiences in ways that traditional forms of therapy might not be able to.

“We are all different and unique,” Guzman shares. “Whether or not songs about heartbreak, grief, and loss will affect or worsen someone’s emotional state will depend on our individual preferences, past experiences, coping mechanisms, and emotional needs, amongst other things. A song I might find personally consider sad or triggering, might not have the same effect on you.”

Guzman states that listening to sad music can help validate and honor feelings we “might not be able to honor or express overwise.” This is why listening to sad girl music might serve as a powerful mood stabilizer and source of comfort during this time of year. Guzman highlights Adele’s “Easy On Me” as being a prime example: “One might say that the lyrics, the tone, and the melody make this a melancholic, sad song — but what I’ve seen is that some people have been able to relate, feel supported, find their own story in Adele’s lyrics, and actually find comfort in giving words to feelings.”

Ultimately, everyone’s experience of the world and perception of specific songs is unique. Music can serve as a powerful tool to help us move specific feelings we might not otherwise be able to process. Additionally, music’s healing capabilities allow us to access these emotions in a safe and supportive way.

Expert-Approved Advice For Sad Girl FAll

Given that listening to sad music during the fall can bring up intense emotions, Guzman highlights the importance of experiencing those emotions in a safe and supported way. As a board-certified therapist, she recommends people utilize sad or melancholic songs to help transform experiences rather than simply ruminating on them.

“As a board-certified music therapist, my aim is to build a therapeutic relationship with the person I’m working with by getting to know them, their preferences, and their needs.” Similar to other forms of therapy, Guzman shares the goal of music therapy is to collaborate on finding coping skills to benefit someone’s well-being. For someone who wants to utilize music as a way to cope and get out of a negative headspace, Guzman has some suggestions:

  • Reflect on how you feel currently
  • Decide what you need (ex: validation, comfort, to feel energized, relaxed, hopeful, etc.).
  • Create a list of songs that validate your current experience and the one you want to embody (i.e., how you currently feel and how you want to be feeling)
  • Create a playlist and name it according to its functionality (i.e., “heavy weather” or “in a better mood”)

Finally, it’s important to remember that “sad girl fall” is not a bad or negative thing. We’re still the same “hot girls” we were 2 months ago — we’re just evolved and expanded versions!

Although fall may not be everyone’s favorite, it is comforting to know there is nothing inherently wrong with indulging in the sad music this season brings. In fact, perhaps spending time “inside” (both literally and metaphorically) is exactly what we need to heal what we’ve been holding onto. Whatever song you feel called to experience is probably for a very specific reason — one that, hopefully, will bring you peace, comfort, and solace. So, the next time you catch yourself listening to Olivia Rodrigo alone in your car, know you’re not alone. Give yourself the gift of loving attention you deserve and create a playlist that meets your needs, validating both where you’re at today and where your heart longs to be in the future. 

Studies

Reeve, S. D., Mogilski, J. K., & Welling, L. L. (2019). Environmental safety threat alters mate choice processes in humans: Further evidence for the environmental security hypothesis. Evolutionary Psychological Science, 5(2), 186-198. 

Vuoskoski, J. K., Thompson, W. F., McIlwain, D., Eorla, T. (2012). Who enjoys listening to sad music and why? Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 29(3), 311-317.

Experts
Mabel Guzman, Licensed Music Therapist & Clinical Social Worker

Follow Mabel’s work on Instagram, read her blog, and check out which of her services might benefit you

Emily Green is a 24-year-old music fan, personal growth junkie & health & wellness advocate. She's passionate about values-based living, sex positivity, self-expression & identity formation. She believes everyone is an artist & that a little bit of social media can be a very healthy thing. You can catch her hiking, at the gym, attending live music events & taking pictures of random things on her phone. Her goal is to leave everyone feeling a little more alive than when she met them.
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