“Yeah, what if I don’t WANT to be jolly?” If 2020 is not enough, here comes the holidays and all that music and memories and baggage with it. Well, the year could go out with a Bang and take you with it, or you can end up on top and it’s as easy as changing your playlist.
Let’s get some basics down, do you believe that music affects your emotions? Sure, of course it does, that’s why we listen to it.
“That song! What’s THAT song?” You know, the one that was playing when you fell in love? The one you played loud over the car radio when you were first learning to drive? The one that you bought the whole album for? The one you heard playing on the HI-FI on Christmas day when you were a kid. There is a reason you remember it. And with a little help, it can become a purpose to leverage it.
You see, people consciously use music for entertainment.
But subconsciously, like a drug.
Gotta get up and make it big today? You know just what song to play to make that happen, don’t ‘cha? Got a tough commute home? You know what songs you’re gonna play. Gotta date? Got just the music for that, too.
You’re not passing the time, you’re self medicating!
But what if you listen to the radio and spin that knob to hear a song to keep you in a certain mood. Even if that mood is negative. That’s called enabling. People with depression tend to listen to music that discourages change. Or put another way, it makes you comfortable with where you are so you don’t make the necessary effort to make a change.
With most radio stations playing between 8 to 14 songs an hour, depending on the format and time of day, you will get a very limited emotional bandwidth, especially if those songs are back loaded with a lot of baggage. And Christmas music is made for the sole purpose of making or recalling memories. Even worse, the stations that convert to Christmas music only, have a very small list of songs on rotation.
Now, before you throw your hands into the air and not listen to Christmas music at all, know that there is much to gain from making peace with the season whose origin is all about peace to start with.
Why would you want to do that?
- “Tis the season” with parties, activities, gatherings, socials all focusing on the social aspect of the season, you’re not going to do anyone any favors by being the seasonal wallflower. People do need you, even if you aren’t at your best this time of year. You could be an empathetic shoulder for someone. And you can be sure, there will be music to, “Get everyone in the mood.” So, seeing music for what it is and can do, will help you manage and be there for this particular time of year.
- A best face forward shows others you are a thriver. Sure, this year has been a piece of work and the holidays can be tough on many of us, but by you stepping out, shows leadership, compassion, belief in the future and in others.
- End of Year activities are an assessment of how we are doing. And, I know, it’s been…difficult, to put it mildly, but you’ve made it, you’re not alone and you’ve learned a few lessons as you’ve moved along.
So, you know why you should do it, let’s see how you can get a handle on the music of the season, and its effects.
First know that music is created to evoke a response. If it bores you, you won’t listen. If it interests you, it does so because of some emotional response, happy or sad or somewhere in between. Christmas music operates, like I said, to evoke memories or create them. If you don’t have pleasant memories of this time of year, or there is a tension about your emotional state not matching the requirements of the season, then the music will seem unpleasant.
But like any stimulus, we get to choose how we respond to it to get a desired outcome.
Events+Response=Outcome by Jack Canfield
If you listen to music for a desired outcome, you’ll normally get it. The question for you is: What do you hear when you hear Christmas music?
Become aware of the effect this music has on your emotions. It’s not normally the music that’s the problem, it’s your emotional response you’ve back-loaded into it that’s the issue. Most of the time what ticks people off about Christmas music is its incessant drive for you to be one big jolly bundle of joy all the time. That’s a lot for anybody, especially this year. So, relax, it’s not your job to be the Seasonal Snowman of Comfort and Joy.
As a music therapist having worked in psych, I see a lot of people dealing with depression and addiction issues that wrestle with emotions this time of year.
Here’s an exercise I share to help mitigate the effects of Christmas music for anyone seeking balance:
- Become aware of any music playing around you – Christmas music is not only common but expected at social functions and parties. So, know what to expect when you’re invited.
- Become aware of the effect this music has on your emotions – In other words, music is a Trigger. A big one! As a matter of fact it’s the second biggest emotional trigger, right behind the sense of smell. But the best way to make a trigger ineffective is to remove the ammunition. That way, when something, like a song or someone, like that mouthy sister of yours or the ever invasive Aunt Ruth gets into your emotional boundary, you get to choose how you respond.
- Keep track of these emotional shifts brought on by external influences – Become aware of how certain songs or genres impact you. It just doesn’t have to be you that degenerates into a puddle of tears when you hear, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” or Mannheim Steamroller’s – Stille Nacht (Silent Night). Have a plan to manage the moment, a mantra to say to yourself, excuse yourself to the bathroom, turn to a friend and strike up a conversation, go to another room, if possible, change the music.
- If possible, adjust the music if it has a negative impact- This is an appropriate response if it is in your control to do so. If not, know the song will pass, and see #3.
- Discover new music – Hundreds of new Christmas songs come out each year and they are carried on all the music platforms out there, so it’s not going to be too hard to find something that hasn’t been loaded with triggers, memories and expectations.
- Get it out of your system – Face the music, literally. Sit down with a playlist of some of your most serious offenders and listen to them. More than once, if necessary! Invite a friend. Invite several! Make it a wake! Bury the hatchet with the songs that have been grinding on you for years. Invite those in attendance to share their issues with the songs with you. But play them till it’s just a song and the trauma of what was attached to it has passed and you’ve created a new link to this party/wake.
- Go Secular – Hey, if it’s not workin’ it’s not workin’. For now! This is a free pass for this year, not an escape “claus” (sorry). Take a pass until you get back on your feet. So, pull out the Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, or whatever you rely on during the other 11 months and we’ll see you under the mistletoe next year.
Remember, music is so much more than entertainment, normally at our own request we have dumped a lot of emotional expectations into the practice of listening to our favorite songs. It’s up to us on how to manage our music choices and the response they give us.
I’m John Chester, Board Certified Music Therapist. Find me on the OBBM podcast: The Power of a Positive Playlist. Where I discuss music and how it impacts our lives, goals and social effectiveness.