Christmas Music Creep

We learn why Christmas music is arriving earlier and earlier, how it works on our brains as we shop, and what we can do about it with Dr. Brynn Winegard. Plus, the geeks reveal their favourite holiday songs, although it seems Michael is largely trolling Alan.

Christmas music too early can be bad for you. Science says.
by Amber Healy

If Christmas music starts to play before the first frost, do you tense up?

Do your teeth grind if you’re hearing “Deck the Halls” before you’ve carved a pumpkin?

Can too much “Holly Jolly Christmas” be a bad thing?

Yes. Yes it can.

Take a step back for a moment before throwing candy canes at the messenger.

When we hear Christmas music in commercials, stores and in our vehicles, sure, it’s a reminder of a wonderful, happy, magical time. It puts most people in really great moods.

But it’s also a reminder that dinner preparations must be made, calendars must be checked, travel arrangements need to be finalized and, oh yeah, all those presents need to be picked, purchased and wrapped.

Hidden in the “Twelve Days of Christmas” is the unending list of things we’ve been conditioned to believe must be done by December 24 unless we want everything to be ruined.

Research indicates there could be serious mental health drawbacks for listening to too much Christmas music too early.

“[Holiday music] might make us feel that we’re trapped. It’s a reminder that we have to buy presents, cater for people, organize celebrations,” says clinical psychologist Linda Blair. It could also be a reminder of all the people we have to see and spend time with and, in a world where discussing politics is never too far away, the possibility of big, stressful conversations that can’t be avoided.

Another researcher reminds us that “90% of your neural matter, and up to 95% of your (and everybody else’s) decisions are made subconsciously.” This is because the brain needs to consume a lot of energy but also wants to be efficient with the energy it uses, and as a result, “one of the best ways for the brain to be more economical and ‘fuel efficient’ is to use cognitive ‘short-cuts’ — pre-set pathways that are the path of least resistance from a processing perspective.”

In other words, if the brain can take a short cut and make an impulse decision based on things we don’t even realize are influencing us, it’ll do that, just about every time.

The other side of this is that retailers know we’re highly susceptible to subconscious messaging and influence. If they play Christmas music, they know we’re being reminded of the people we have to buy presents for – and, look, wouldn’t this toy be perfect for your nephew? Wandering through a mall and hearing Mariah Carey for the 10,000th time and, oh, that’s right, your sister dropped hints about wanting a sweater from that boutique.

There are other tricks too, like fun sweaters or costumes worn by employees, seasonal greetings, special pricing deals, all designed to remind us that we’ve got a LOT of spending and shopping to do, so why not get as much of it done while you’re already in THIS store, right now?  They might even slyly introduce bigger shopping carts or baskets, because human animals hate to see unfilled space.

“Music goes right to our emotions immediately and it bypasses rationality,” Blair says. “Christmas music is likely to irritate people if it’s played too loudly and too early.”

Let’s also remember that end-of-the-year holidays can be really difficult for people who have other mental health concerns, like depression and anxiety, not only because of the pressure to have a picture-perfect Martha Stewart holiday, but feelings of inadequacy, financial stresses, feelings of loneliness and not fitting in, etc.

So what’s to be done about all this? The music is everywhere, right?

Pop in some headphones and listen to something else. Shop online. If there’s something that absolutely must be picked up in person, order it ahead and opt for the in-store pick-up if possible, and schedule it to be closer to the holiday if you can.

When you’re ready for the holiday tunes, they’ll be waiting.

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