Does Christmas Music Affect Our Mental Health?
Who knew the old Christmas tunes were so powerful?
According to a study published in the Journal of Business Research, Christmas music can have an effect on our mental health, either triggering a sense of joy in its listeners or sadness and anxiety in connection with all things associated with the holidays.
Let’s face it, you either love or hate Christmas music.
Sure, it’s the most beloved holiday of the year in the U.S. and the vast majority of us find a deep sense of joy from the holiday season, including the music. After all, Christmas tunes wouldn’t fill radio stations during the holidays if people didn’t turn up their car radios and drive around to listen to them.
However, with everything that goes along with that, from having to remember to get presents for everyone to the financial burden of buying said presents, traveling home to see family, and for some entertaining personal and professional guests, it can also be a very stressful time for many of us as well.
And whether you find great joy in the holidays or stress and anxiety...nothing reminds us of the holidays more than the music.
Music has a powerful ability to conjure up emotions in connection with old memories. And so depending on how you remember past holidays will affect how you feel when you hear those classic Christmas tunes.
What happens when we hear Christmas music?
According to psychologists, Christmas music can have some seriously negative side effects on our mental health, particularly if you work in an environment where that music is played on repeat for a long period of time such as a department store.
But it’s about more than just growing sick of hearing the same songs played on repeat. The real cause goes much deeper.
“Our response to Christmas songs depends on the association,” says clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Rhonda Freeman in a recent NBC interview.
She goes on to say that, “many of us associate this music with childhood and happy time of presents and traditions and all the specialness that happens around that time of year. When the brain makes these associations with something very positive and pleasurable, the rewards system is being activated which triggers a number of chemicals including dopamine.”
Okay, you got me. That’s totally me. Unfortunately, it’s not all swirly-twirly gumdrops.
Dr. Freeman is quick to add that this positive conditioning and psychological rewards system can just as well swing the other way, “some people had abusive childhoods, or they experienced a loss of some kind of a person someone passed away.”
She goes on to say: “The reward system can also be associated with pain. For that population, Christmas songs can be very painful to hear...Because our prefrontal cortex is less developed when we are children, so we are more emotional beings when we are little. That becomes a part of our memory.”
Growing up, I couldn’t have imagined a December without Christmas. From the smell of Christmas trees to holiday sweets, Christmas lights and, of course...presents. It was easily my favorite time of year.
However, since growing up, I’ve met friends who didn’t have very good Christmas experiences growing up and this led to some rather painful memories. Those which they had no desire to have unearthed with the nostalgia of Christmas music.
Dr. Freeman says that “If you don’t want to hear a song, or are hearing it on repeat for three hours with no say in the matter, your prefrontal cortex is working hard to filter it out so you can focus...environment is everything. If you’re in a store and you don’t want to hear it, that’s stressful because your brain has to work harder to focus.”
This kind of environment, she says, can easily be the cause of great levels of anxiety, stress, and even sadness depending on the nature of these Christmas memories that are unearthed by the music.
There’s always time to discover the Christmas spirit
While you may or may not have had the greatest experiences growing up during the holidays, the good news is there’s always time to create new memories and discover the magic of Christmas.
Whether you enjoy the season with 24/7 Christmas classics or prefer to keep the radio as far away from old Kris Kringle as possible, we hope the holiday season is as joyous of time for you as it is for us.