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The Problem with Christmas Music and 5 Ways to Fix It

Christmas music is everywhere and it seems to be starting earlier and earlier each year. Memories of ‘Christmas Past’ flood back during the first bars of “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree.” For some a happiness chord is struck, joy is released, and a newfound lightness settles in for the month.

For others, Christmas music brings on very different feelings. Some people hear Christmas music and feel immediately agitated and annoyed, some more seriously than others. They may reach for the wine bottle or crank up their favourite rock album. Tension sets in, and contentedness is replaced by a deep ache of grief and loss.

Music’s capacity to trigger memories is one of the core tenants of music therapy. It drives a lot of the music therapist’s treatment design. When used with the right intention, frequency and intensity, music has the power to take individuals from feeling totally lost, to feeling comforted and less alone, and so much more.

Here are 5 ways music can help you through the Christmas season:

1. Introduce new music into your personal soundtrack. With today’s technology and on-demand music services, Christmas is a great time to access brand new music in order to massage your auditory cortex and your imagination. Music stimulates creativity by increasing blood and oxygen flow to the brain – transforming a sleepy brain into a stimulated brain. We often feel happiest when we embrace our creativity and music can help us get there.

2. Listen to seasonal music with no lyrics and perhaps a new rhythm. If you are a non-preferred-Christmas-listener (NPCL) but your mom is coming over to bake her best shortbread, try instrumental Christmas music with a unique beat (e.g., reggae). Music has the capacity to change our emotional state. Changing a negative or resistant emotional state is at the root of getting into a positive, productive state. This can be particularly helpful during cookie baking season.

3. Listen to music that soothes you and that can help you de-stress during this high stress season. The right music relaxes the mind and lowers cortisol levels. When used intentionally, there is ample evidence to suggest music can make a difference in lowering anxiety and reducing your stress. Some research suggests that 20 minutes of listening to music that soothes you equals 10 mg of valium.

4. Use music to feel connected to those you cannot be with in person. Music is a powerful anchor and roots people into the moment, helping their memory to maintain important data for later, and helping them feel more connected to those they care about, even when separated by death or distance. Music can boost memories while allowing our brain to access its reserves and remember important events and information. 

5. Socialize to your favourite music of the season – whatever that may be. Music inspires us and creates a clear passage to health. Take time for live music (making or watching), singing together, and enjoying one another’s company through music. Focus on creating new, more positive memories for future years to come. (Next month we will discuss how music improves social bonds, to prepare you for the Christmas social season.)

When to get help

For those who are struggling to face the season; feeling overwhelmed; or sinking  deeper and deeper in a state of sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, worry or guilt, it is really important that you talk to someone, such as a counsellor, therapist, nurse or doctor. This life is tough to get through alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

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