Intentional & Safe Use of Music During the Holidays

Music Therapy. Counselling. Online. Virtual. Holiday Music. Intentional. Safe.

It’s hard to believe that the holiday season is nearing. This time of year can bring joy and gratitude. But also stress, agitation, and sadness especially this year with pandemic health and safety considerations impacting our traditional celebrations. Holiday stress for 2020 may include: determining how travel restrictions will affect trips home for the holidays, being unable to attend large community gatherings, or grieving the loss of loved ones this past year. 

Dr. Scott Bea, clinical psychologist, explains, “For people who’ve had great Christmases, full of celebration and good feelings when they were young, they’re going to be more welcoming of all the cues that go on with Christmas — and Christmas music is one of those really powerful cues.”

In a poll conducted by Consumer Reports, nearly 25% of respondents indicated that music is the most stress-inducing part of the holidays. When so many of us resonate with music, how does it suddenly become a significant stressor?  

In addition to the possibility of bringing to mind difficult memories of holidays past, Dr. Bea provides the following additional explanations.

  • Hearing Christmas music too early in the season may cause people to have stress responses to the holidays. They may feel an obligation to start shopping early or the burden of trying to produce a perfect holiday. For those with perfectionist tendencies this could be a difficult time of year.
  • For some, the tendency of stores to get the festivities “out of order” causes tension. Dr. Bea says “many people don’t like it when they see decorations for different holidays colliding in the store.”  However, he acknowledges that, “retailers often break out the holly as early as possible because research has shown that playing Christmas music, combined with holiday scents, leads shoppers to buy more and spend more time in the store.”
  • On the topic of Christmas music, Dr. Bea suggests most people will agree on the fact that certain holiday songs get overplayed and get on our nerves. 

Considerations Moving Forward

Through our work as Certified Music Therapists, we think about the intentional application of music (live and recorded) when working with our clients. I hope that these considerations support your holiday music listening experience whether it’s with yourself or with loved ones:

  1. When planning a good time to listen to holiday music, take some time to consider the situation. What is the purpose of the music in that moment? Who will be there and what might their reaction be? Perhaps reflect on the use of music to help with relaxation in the evening or music to help energize and motivate you in the mornings. 
  2. Examine the possibility of music causing overstimulation for yourself or for your loved ones. This can happen both consciously or unconsciously as feelings of grief, anxiety or agitation could surface. Awareness is a key component of how the sounds in your space (i.e. music, natural or environmental sounds) are impacting your body.
  3. Above all else communication is key. Check in with your loved ones and yourself. Knowing how holiday music is impacting you in that moment is important. What feelings and emotions are coming up? Am I comfortable or uncomfortable physically? Are there difficult memories, anxious feelings or depressive thoughts surfacing?

To address any health or safety concerns that arise, please consult with your therapist or make an appointment with a Certified Music Therapist, Counselling Therapist or Psychotherapist.  They have knowledge with support tools in processing these experiences and to guide you further on your healing journey.

If you or a loved one require urgent assistance please see the Canadian Mental Health Services website for a list of distress centres and crisis organizations in your area. If someone is in immediate danger, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest hospital. 

Wishing you a holiday season of ease, love, and light. 

In song,
Mackenzie Costron, BMT, MTA, RCT
Owner and Founder of Find Your Voice Music Therapy
Certified Music Therapist & Registered Counselling Therapist
1-800-827-3120 ext. 101
[email protected]