British Columbia

Christmas music can 'emphasize' grief, loss, says music therapist

Music therapist Jennifer Buchanan offers tips on what people can do if they find holiday music to be emotionally painful, such as trying reggae or jazz Christmas music.

Jennifer Buchanan says carolling used to remind her of a time when her family was struggling with money

The holiday season can be an emotionally charged time, and for some, Christmas music only fuels that, according to music therapist Jennifer Buchanan. (Getty Images)

While some people tire of holiday music because it tends to be overplayed in the mall and on the radio, there are others who can find it emotionally painful because of the memories and feelings the songs can evoke, says a music therapist and author.

"When people hear Christmas music, it may emphasize their grief, their loss that they've experienced throughout this last year, or perhaps over years in the past," said Jennifer Buchanan, the author of Tune In: Use Music Intentionally to Curb Stress, Boost Morale and Restore Health.

"Music affects many neural networks in our brains, many of which are a part of our emotional centres, so there's no question that music will affect people very quickly and very effectively, either for the good or the bad."

Painful caroling memories

Buchanan told On the Coast host Stephen Quinn that she's personally experienced how holiday music can evoke painful memories.

When she was a teenager her family was short on money, and carolers came to her family's house to deliver a Christmas hamper.

"As great as that was … for me it was just a bit embarrassing, and it also felt like people were feeling sorry for me, and so it tainted my feelings towards caroling," she said.

"I've literally had to rebrand Christmas for myself over the years, and it's taken some time, but [I'm] raising my own kids now, and creating new memories. Music has been a big part of that."

What you can do

For those who have an adverse emotional response to holiday music, Buchanan suggests avoiding it.

But since that can be difficult or almost impossible during the holiday season, she says people could "get their brain working on something new."

"This is a great time of year to introduce new music into your current soundtrack," she said.

For those who are doing a holiday activity and feel like they should have some Christmas music, she advises trying music with a "different rhythm and flavour than you're used to playing."

"So it might be reggae Christmas, or jazz Christmas, and without the lyrics, and perhaps you can put that on and you can create some new memories with Christmas."

To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: How Christmas music can be emotionally painful for some, and what one can do about it