Christmas Music Can Be a Source of Sadness: Have We Gone Overboard?

Are all the “Fa la-la-la-las” making you want to punch someone in the face or collapse in a pool of tears?

You’re not alone.

“The most wonderful time of the year” can also be the worst time of the year for some people – and the perpetual Christmas music doesn’t help. Before you go labeling this set as Scrooges, keep in mind that Christmas music can have a major psychological impact on your mental health. Psychologists have found that, in particular, playing Christmas music too early can play a role, especially if you’re constantly exposed to it (i.e. if you work in a department store of doctors’ office).

Why? “Our response to Christmas songs depends on the association,” Dr. Rhonda Freeman, a clinical neuropsychologist told NBC News. “Many of us associate this music with childhood and a 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.” While the holiday season brings up warm and fuzzy feelings for many of us – something that’s only amplified by the holiday music – for others, it conjures up darker emotions.

If you’ve had a rough childhood, are experiencing financial trouble, or have had a loved one pass away during the holidays, Christmas may be more a source of sadness and anxiety than anything. According to Freeman – and not surprisingly – hearing music can unlock emotions and reactions to stressors, making for a listening experience that is far from enjoyable.

While I personally have a soft spot for Christmas music (the more nostalgic and Mariah Carey-filled, the better), it’s a valid to question if it’s gone too far, especially in a city as multicultural as Toronto is. Now, I’m not one of those over-the-top, uber politically correct people who thinks the term “Merry Christmas” should become a thing of the past (in fact, I find this video hilarious), but, given the fact that a good chunk of the Toronto population doesn’t count a visit from Santa part of their holiday traditions and that Christmas music can be psychologically damaging to some, have we gone a tad overboard?

For example, is it necessary that it begins to sound a lot like Christmas in department stores the second Halloween ends? Or that one Toronto station, 98.1, plays only Christmas music 24/7 from November 19, until Boxing Day? In terms of the latter, many listeners claimed the music was ‘too much, too soon,” in response to the station’s Facebook announcement that it had started for the season.

Thanks to their later Thanksgiving, south of the border in the U.S., the Christmas music doesn’t typically start until the day after American Thanksgiving. According to a recent CBC article, in the United Kingdom, it’s not socially acceptable to have the holiday music on rotation until December. Love it or hate it, Christmas music is in full force throughout Toronto.

If you’re the type who can’t get enough of Christmas music, today, Spotify debuted “Spotify Singles: Holiday,” an exclusive playlist that features holiday music from artists like Kelly Clarkson, Sam Smith, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, and more. For everyone else, you may want to consider making a new playlist and checking twice before you leave home without your headphones.