Can Music Reduce Holiday Stress?

Can Music Reduce Holiday Stress?

With the holidays approaching, combined with the current political climate, war, the economy, and possible losses you’ve suffered over the last two years, you might be wondering how to navigate the holiday season and buffer yourself against feeling a bit low.

This isn’t one of those self-help articles you’ll find on the internet that suggests eating healthy and exercising during the holidays to ward off depression and anxiety. I don’t know anyone who dives into the crudité instead of a scoop of ice-cream during the holidays. No five-point article on health is going to make anyone do that.

But what does help that doesn’t require any kind of deprivation, is music. And it feels good. It’s enjoyable. It sooths us and can improve mood, boost energy, improve sleep, and reduces blood pressure.

Plus there’s new evidence to support all that.

The holidays aren’t easy for me. I lost important people in my life during the pandemic and their absence, my loss, tends to creep in on cat’s feet right around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Winter, in some parts of the country, can feel like a bitter foe. The days are shorter, and there’s a shortage of sunlight sprinkling into your living room. With that, on top of the holiday season, the spirit can grow a bit weary. Or lonely. Or sad.

What brightens your mood? Music. It can make the day or night feels less dreary, the holidays a lot more cheerful, even if you aren’t sharing them with loved ones or the loved ones you’d hope to. Music is powerful that way.

I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t know but there’s plenty of evidence that supports that music releases a mood-enhancing chemical (dopamine) in the brain that produces a feel-good state. Dopamine is known to produce pleasure or joy, not unlike sweets or being in love.

But music produces up to 9% higher levels of dopamine than the above.

A study in Nature Neuroscience found that “levels of dopamine were found to be up to 9% higher when volunteers were listening to music they enjoyed.” See BBC article with the link to the study here. Music psychologist Dr. Vicky Williamson from Goldsmiths College, University of London, said that the research didn’t answer why music is so important to human beings—it proved that it was.

We’ve all experienced the absolute joy by attending a concert with one of our favorite artists or bands. It’s thrilling. And the high can last for a couple of days. You’ve probably experienced the effects of music on your mood even if in your home, office or car.

Music has the ability to promote well-being and mood. See new JAMA study here.

Music has been called the universal language and it’s been used in many cultures for healing and medicine. Science suggests that music can help the recovery of motor skills and cognitive function in stroke patients, and even aids communication for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.  See here. Think about Tony Bennett who was able to sing with Lady Gaga even though Alzheimer’s had deprived him of many of his previous communication skills.

That’s potent stuff.

With the holidays fast approaching, try putting a few things in your musical arsenal to help improve your mood if you encounter some depression or anxiety.

Of course, music is no substitute for medical intervention, so if you’re in need of more than this, please seek out medical help.

Here’s what you can do:

1. Set up your favorite music in a playlist or series of playlists to listen to if you start to feel anxious or depressed during the holidays. Start listening on a daily basis. Ahead of time.
It goes without saying that if your preference is CDs or vinyl, organize those.

2. Try listening to music you love before you might feel anxiety or depression, or before you have to sit down with the family member you’d rather not spent time with.
Get ahead of the pain, as they say.

3. Find a concert or two to attend during the holidays. That’s what I always do. It helps stave off loneliness or isolation.
It’s easy to find concerts online. If you can’t get out to one, watch one online. Not quite as good as live obviously, but still exciting.

4. Keep your favorite music handy. It doesn’t have to be just at home or in the car or at a friend’s house. Bring music you love to the doctor’s office, on the plane, while visiting family that might produce conflict.

5. Learn to play a musical instrument. People mistakenly believe that you can only learn to play new instruments when you’re young. That simply isn’t true. It’s never too late to learn according to this NPR article “Never Too Late To Learn An Instrument.”  There are plenty of online instruction videos and schools to teach you. I only know about online guitar instructors. See list below.

I learned to play acoustic guitar when I was 6 years old, took weekly lessons, performed and practiced regularly for years. I picked it up again when I was 50 and am having the time of my life, when I can find the time to do it that is. This time, I started re-learning on electric guitar, which in my opinion, is a different animal than acoustic guitar. A whole new set of challenges but it sure is fun.

Guitar instructors who teach online (I’ve used these two myself)
Justin Guitar 
Marty Music 

Here are some Rock & Blues Muse Playlists for you. SEE HERE. 

I look forward to your comments below. Which music boosts your mood and well-being? How have you used music to ease anxiety or depression?


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