Is Holiday Music Bad For Your Mental Health?

By Britni de la Cretaz 11/24/17

The merry, ubiquitous tunes may leave some listeners feeling a bit trapped.

woman wearing headphones listening to music with Christmas tree in background

Beginning the day after Thanksgiving and running through the new year, holiday music can be heard nearly everywhere. It’s played in retail stores, on radio stations, and at holiday parties.

The festive tunes are almost impossible to escape, and that’s especially true for people who work in retail and are subjected to the same holiday playlist day in and day out. But could all those jingles actually be detrimental to our mental health?

Some experts say yes. "Christmas music is likely to irritate people if it's played too loudly and too early,” clinical psychologist Linda Blair told Sky News. "It might make us feel that we're trapped - it's a reminder that we have to buy presents, cater for people, organize celebrations. Some people will react to that by making impulse purchases, which the retailer likes. Others might just walk out of the shop."

Dr. Victoria Williamson, a music psychology researcher, provides a possible explanation for this. She told NBC News that there is a “U-shaped relationship” between the frequency with which we hear a song and the reaction we have to it. Essentially, we hear a song and we like it, a reaction that increases as we listen more and more. But eventually, we become oversaturated and tired of the song, leading to irritation or boredom when it’s played.

Some retailers are hearing their customers and easing up on the “Christmas creep.” Target, for example, has committed to refraining from pushing Christmas signs and displays until after Thanksgiving. "[Customers] want us to pause, and be really intentional and recognize Thanksgiving," Rick Gomez, the retailer's chief marketing officer, told the Associated Press. "What they don't want us to do is go right into Christmas. So, we are going to respect that."

And, while customers can choose to walk out of the store and turn off their car radio when they’ve had enough, it’s the retail workers who are most at-risk for holiday music burnout. For them, Blair tells Sky News that it’s important they be able to find a coping mechanism while at work.

“People working in the shops at Christmas need to learn how to tune out the music because if they don’t, it really does make you unable to focus on anything else,” Blair says. “You’re simply spending all your energy trying not to hear what you’re hearing.”

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.