Some things can be really hard to say out loud. There are feelings that we hold back from expressing because we worry about the fallout, or feelings that seem far too complicated to put into words. Holding in difficult feelings can be a real struggle and can often leave us feeling alone or isolated.
The good news is that no matter what your difficult feelings may be, there’s a good chance that someone somewhere has written a song about it. Many of your favourite artists have written music about difficult, inconvenient, complicated or just downright unpleasant feelings, helping to turn these big, complex emotions into something we can listen to and identify with. Here are 21 of the best songs about difficult feelings, to help you find an outlet for whatever it is that you may be dealing with.
Top Songs About Difficult Feelings
“How Do You Feel Today?” – Gabrielle Aplin
Aplin finds herself in a difficult relationship dynamic in “How Do You Feel Today?” Her partner’s feelings seem to be changing day to day, and their relationship is beginning to feel unstable. She wants to be there for him and understand the difficult feelings he’s processing, but he won’t let her in.
“I offered you my hands and I’ve given you my hope,” she sings. “So let me be your salvation; I refuse to be your rope.” Struggling with difficult feelings is never fun, but it can be just as difficult to be the partner of someone who is going through a rough time and unable to communicate it.
“The Hardest Part” – Nina Nesbitt
This reflective guitar ballad from Scottish singer-songwriter Nina Nesbitt was a late addition to her debut album, Peroxide, written entirely on her own. Nesbitt played the song live on her tour before ever recording it, and then decided that it needed to go on the record. She’s since called it her favourite song from the album.
The song sees Nesbitt struggling with difficult feelings at the end of a doomed relationship. She knows that the timing is wrong for this relationship, but it doesn’t stop her from still wanting to be with the person she loves. The most difficult thing is acknowledging that the timing may never work. “It might never be the right time, and that’s the hardest part of it,” she sings.
“Even My Dad Does Sometimes” – Ed Sheeran
This piano ballad from x sees Sheeran reassure the listener that it’s okay if difficult feelings get on top of them. “It’s alright to cry – even my dad does sometimes,” he sings. Written with frequent collaborator Amy Wadge, “Even My Dad Does Sometimes” was penned after a friend of Wadge’s was diagnosed with cancer.
Sheeran is also struggling with difficult feelings in the track, acknowledging that it’s alright to want to let go when your life is coming to an end, but asking the dying person to hold on a little longer nonetheless.
“Secret For The Mad” – dodie
“I’ve got a secret for the mad,” sings dodie. “In a little bit of time, it won’t hurt so bad.” Speaking to those who have been struggling with difficult feelings and mental health issues – like dodie herself – she reassures them that “there will be a day when you can say you’re okay and mean it.” “Secret For The Mad” is arranged around a single repeated note played on the piano, with dodie layering vocal harmonies over the top.
“Liability” – Lorde
Lorde’s been rejected by a boy in “Liability” and finds herself crying in the taxi on the way home. It’s okay though, because she’s heading home to the girl that she loves – “The only love I haven’t screwed up.”
She reveals that she’s talking about herself – she is the only person that she feels will ever really love her for who she is. “Liability” discusses Lorde’s difficult feelings of inadequacy and at the same time being “a little much for everyone.” The stripped-back recording sees just Lorde and her voice alone at a piano.
“Turn It Off” – Paramore
This angsty, guitar-driven track from indie rock group Paramore sees vocalist Hayley Williams unpack the difficult feelings she’s been having. It’s all starting to look a little futile and cyclical to Williams, who can’t see the point in trying to be better when she always seems to be “heading for a cliff.” Williams has said that this track was inspired by the idea that she sometimes feels her life would be easier to live with no faith.
“Smother” – Daughter
Daughter’s mental health hits a low point in “Smother”, which sees the singer describe the difficult feeling that she might be ‘a suffocator’ – i.e. someone who holds on too tightly to other people and becomes dependent on them, to both of their detriment. “Oh, love, I’m sorry if I smothered you,” she sings. “I sometimes wish I’d stayed inside my mother.” The mournful song comes from the singer’s 2012 debut album, If You Leave.
“What Breaks My Heart” – Parachute
Frontman Will Anderson doesn’t harbour any resentment towards his ex in this melancholy rock ballad, but he is still left with some difficult feelings. Witnessing his ex pulling up in a car with her new man and kissing him before she steps out has left a big impression on him, and now he can’t stop thinking about the scene.
“I could tell you really love him – that’s what breaks my heart,” he sings. He’s now left wondering if there’s a version of events in which the two of them would have worked, ultimately realising that his ex will never love him like that.
“Stop Crying Your Heart Out” – Oasis
On “Stop Crying Your Heart Out”, Oasis address anyone struggling with difficult feelings, and encourages them to keep moving on through life without letting their current circumstances drag them down.
The track is also about memories, and the fact that they will always come back to us when we need them. “All of the stars are fading away. Try not to worry, you’ll see them some day,” sing the band.
“idontwannabeyouanymore” – Billie Eilish
Eilish was just sixteen when this track was released, and fully immersed in the teenage insecurities and difficult feelings she was singing about. “Was I made from a broken mold?” she asks. She’s feeling insecure about her body, tired of her overactive mind, and lonely. The song sees her standing in front of the mirror and addressing herself directly: “I don’t wanna be you anymore,” she sings.
“Here Comes The Anxiety” – The Wombats
Anxiety can be a difficult feeling, but it’s one that Wombats lead singer Matthew Murphey is unfortunately familiar with. “Here comes the love anxiety – can’t let it grab a hold of me,” he sings. “Not after last time.”
Murphey is scared to be alone with himself and desperate for the girl he loves not leave him, but he’s also aware that anxiety can cause him to self-sabotage relationships. He’s trying to avoid being caught between the two feelings – but the outcome seems inevitable.
“Anti-Hero” – Taylor Swift
Swift dives deeper into her insecurities than she ever has before on ‘Anti-Hero’. “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me,” she sings with mock cheer. She acknowledges both the flaws she feels in herself and the flaws the media sees in her, and sadly marvels at the fact that she still has such a dedicated fanbase. “It must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero,” she laments.
In a video about the track, Swift opened up about the difficult feelings that inspired “Anti-Hero”, explaining that she struggles with feeling way larger than herself, to the point where she doesn’t feel like a person anymore. “Don’t feel bad for me – you don’t need to,” she quipped.
“Big Girls Don’t Cry” – Fergie
This stripped-back pop track from Fergie sees her working through difficult feelings after a break-up. She knows that she did the right thing ending the relationship, as she needs some time to figure out some stuff about herself and achieve the things she wants to achieve, but it’s still tricky to navigate her heartache.
“It’s time to be a big girl now, and big girls don’t cry,” she tells herself sternly. In 2007, Fergie brought a new meaning to the song when she performed it at the Concert For Diana and dedicated the track to the memory of Princess Diana.
“f*ck, I’m lonely” – Lauv, Anne-Marie
This Lauv and Anne-Marie duet about the difficult feelings of loneliness in this surprisingly upbeat pop track. After a break-up, the two struggle with questions and memories and try to learn how to be alright on their own. It’s a challenge, though, and they both find themselves singing: “F*ck, I’m lonely.”
“Details In The Fabric” – Jason Mraz ft James Morrison
Mraz sings to someone struggling with their mental health in ‘Details In The Fabric’ and encourages them to “hold your own, know your name, and go your own way.” Beginning with simple instructions for them to calm down, take deep breaths and get dressed, he then goes on to address the difficult feelings they’ve been having, reassuring them that they’ll get help and it’s all going to be okay.
The track features English singer-songwriter James Morrison. According to Mraz, Jason was “hanging around the studio” whilst ‘Details In The Fabric’ was being put together, and was happy to jump on the track with Mraz.
“Perservere” – Gang Of Youths
Gang Of Youths frontman David Le’aupepe sings about one of the most difficult things a person can contend with in life on this track from Go Farther In Lightness. Struggling with a lack of faith and his recent divorce, he talks to his friends who have recently lost their baby.
“It’s okay to feel unbelievably lost,” his friend tells him. Le’aupepe is blown away by his friends’ faith and optimism in the face of tragedy, and re-evaluates his own approach to tackling his difficult feelings.
“Older Than I Am” – Lennon Stella
Stella is struggling with the difficult feeling of realising your childhood has passed you by quicker than it should have done. Having contended against some tricky things whilst growing up, Stella has had to grow up much faster than many of her peers, and is now mourning her younger self. “My life’s been survival of the fittest, but I did it,” she sings.
“Motion Sickness” – Phoebe Bridgers
“I have emotional motion sickness,” sings Bridgers. “Somebody roll the windows down.” Reeling from a break-up, Bridgers is contending with more than just the usual difficult feelings that come with the end of a relationship.
Following her relationship with much older musician Ryan Adams, Bridgers is coming to the tricky realisation that the relationship had a skewed power dynamic and had many of the hallmarks of coercive control.
“self crucify” – Bea Miller
Miller is working through her difficult feelings on ‘self crucify’, and doing her best to be kind to herself. “It’s important, it’s important to not self crucify,” she reminds herself.
The song works through Miller’s mental health issues in her teenage years, her estranged relationship with one of her mothers and her social anxiety, ending up by explaining that these days, she prefers to be alone.
“Easy On Me” – Adele
The end of a marriage brings with it a myriad of difficult feelings. Adele works through some of them in “Easy On Me”, the lead single from her 30 album and her first solo release in five years. The song addresses the world at large, her husband, but mostly her young son, Angelo. It sees Adele explaining that she was still a child when she married Angelo’s father, and asking him to understand how difficult the decision was on her end.
“Deep End” – Holly Humberstone
Humberstone’s debut single is a sweet ode to one of her three sisters, who was struggling with mental health issues at the time of writing. Humberstone acknowledges that she may not understand her sister’s difficult feelings, but she wants to be there for her however she can. “Throw me in the deep end, I’m ready now to swim,” she sings.
It can be hard to know what to say to someone who is struggling with difficult feelings. If you yourself are struggling, sometimes you don’t even know what it is you want to hear. When you’re not feeling up to having those conversations, music can be a great way to remind yourself that someone else has felt those feelings too, and that you aren’t alone.
Caitlin Devlin is a music, entertainment and lifestyle writer based in London. When she’s not creating playlists for Repeat Replay, she’s reviewing gigs and interviewing artists for Ticketmaster UK and thinking about what her Spotify Wrapped will look like this year.