Often when anxiety or depression starts to overwhelm me, I look for an escape. When traveling, my options are limited. The TV I turn to after work may not work, may be in a different language, or may just not be available. The book that takes me into another world isn’t always as helpful when reading it in motion makes me nauseous.
So, imagine my pure joy when I discovered a tiny, free app on my phone that can whisk me away from my overbearing emotions with a pair of headphones and a tap of my finger. Now entering…the world of podcasts!
Podcasts are honestly a gift from God for those traveling in a less-than-ideal mental state. They can help you meditate or breathe. They can help you sleep. They can help wrap you up in another world separate from your own. They can cheer you up. They can calm you down. And they are free, easy to use, and downloadable on any smart phone.
Without further ado, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite podcasts to distract you from real real life. Enjoy!
(P.S. none of this is a paid advertisement—I just really love podcasts.)
Podcasts that suck you in with a story (real or fictional):
- Serial (True) – We’ve all heard about it, but the first season was great, and you know it. If you haven’t heard, the story is about a journalist reexamining a 1999 Baltimore case in which a student is found guilty of murdering his high school ex-girlfriend.
- The Black Tapes (Fictional) – A podcaster works with a doctor who has offered $1 million dollars to anyone who can prove that the paranormal exists. Most of his entries have been solved, but there are a few “black tapes” that he doesn’t have answers for yet. The tapes get creepier and creepier until you are no longer worried about your everyday problems; though you may be more worried about demons taking over the earth…
- Homecoming (Fictional) – Voiced by David Schwimmer, Amy Sedaris, and Catherine Keener, it’s like television for your ears. A caseworker on an experimental government project that helps veterans readjust to society tries to remember what happened to her and one of her patients.
- Crimetown (True) – Hear from real-life members of organized crime from Providence, Rhode Island. The stories of corruption will shock you and remind you that life is crazy and totally worth living.
- Lore (Trueish) – Ever wonder where folklore stories come from? How did we come up with vampires, elves, or werewolves? This one will tell you the true (and maybe true?) stories of how lore across cultures came to be.
- This American Life (True) – Some of these are a little too politically charged for my taste, but some are just fun. Hear stories from real American people getting through real things. Even if you’re not entertained, it will remind you that you aren’t the only one going through some stuff.
- Stranglers (True) – I had no idea how much information there is about the Boston strangler(s). Get sucked into the details and theories of this still unsolved case to distract your brain for a while.
- RABBITS (Fictional) – This one requires your total attention, which is great when you just can’t anymore. When a girl’s friend goes missing playing an alternative reality game, she investigates.
- Cold Case Files: The Podcast (True) – Cold case files are super interesting, but it sucks when they never solve them. Boom! This one does! It takes old cold case files that have finally been solved and goes through all the details.
- How I Built This with Guy Raz (True) – Looking for inspiration? This podcast tells you how everyday people built their companies, including Spanx, Instagram, Airbnb, Zumba, and more. It’s just the boost you need to remember that not everything is as hopeless as it seems.
Podcasts that teach you fascinating things about the world (but not in a boring way):
- 99% Invisible – Find out how everything in the world (like everything) is the way it is for a reason. It also helps that this design podcast is narrated by Roman Mars, who has the voice of a calming guardian angel.
- Criminal – I’m a huge true crime junkie, but you don’t have to be to enjoy this podcast. It’s really well done and tells you an interesting story about some kind of criminal act, from how 420 got its name to what happens to retired police dogs. So. Good.
- Radiolab – Who thought science could be interesting?! Certainly not me, the English and communications major. But I find myself fascinated by stories of genes, bugs, technology, and more. Warning: If you love meat as much as I do, don’t listen to the episode “Alpha Gal.” It may ruin your life.
- Invisibilia – If you’re sick of your mind and need a new way to look at things, check out Invisibilia. It focuses on all the invisible forces that affect us everyday: ideas, beliefs, thoughts, emotions, etc. It might be just what you need to pull you out of that fog.
- Every Little Thing – These little stories about eclipses, flamingos, plastic chairs, and other random topics teach you cool facts sure to help break the awkward silence during your next bout of social anxiety.
- Nancy – Hear stories about the LGBTQ experience. When you understand other people and their struggles, the world becomes a better place.
- The Way I Heard it with Mike Rowe – Full disclosure: this dude talks too much sometimes. But when he actually gets to the story, you learn some backstories about famous people and things you thought you knew. Oh, and they’re only 5-10 minutes long if you don’t have a ton of time.
- What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law – Whether you like him or not, this podcast takes our president’s actions and tweets and uses them to teach us something about constitutional law. It’s a throwback to civics and may help soothe your nerves over all the craziness happening in the world today.
- Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing – Ok, this isn’t for everyone, but I’m a writer, and I like to keep up-to-date with the world of grammar. Plus, I’ve always admired Grammar Girl for her dedication to words and her strong business sense. You go, GG!
Podcasts that help you sleep/zen out:
- Stuff You Should Know – Some people really learn something from this show, and that’s great. But honestly, the two hosts of this one often get off-track and ramble, which puts me to sleep in less than five minutes. So thank you SYSK for distracting my racing head long enough to let it doze off.
- Sleep With Me – Get your mind out of the gutter! This one intentionally goes off on tangents. The droning voice will put you back in your high school history class, and hopefully, you’ll be out like a light in no time.
Your interests may be different than mine. I get that not everyone is into unsolved crime and grammar tips, but that doesn’t mean that podcasts won’t help you. Download the podcast app on your phone and give it a try. If you already have it, try exploring a new podcast using the top charts list or search button.
Before traveling to someplace new, I always search for podcasts on that location. I’ve learned about Icelandic folklore, Galapagos’ history, and Irish cuisine all from podcasts. They are a great resource, and…hello?….they are free!