The holiday tunes are fine, but experts say listening to too much Christmas music or hearing it too early can cause anxiety and depression.
As soon as the little ghosts and goblins are tucked into bed on Halloween night, it seems a switch flips and Christmas lights spring up like eager buds at springtime.
Thanksgiving? What’s that?
The November holiday has little room to roam between the haunts of Halloween and the jingling bells of Christmas.
Indeed, it seems the marketing ploys start pushing jolly old Saint Nicholas as soon as the Halloween candy is on clearance.
This phenomenon, known as Christmas Creep, means stores are playing holiday tunes earlier and earlier.
This gradual Christmas crawl can have a negative impact on your mental health, says clinical psychologist Linda Blair.
Slipping in Christmas music before the holiday season officially starts can actually make you more anxious and depressed, she told Sky News.
“Christmas music is likely to irritate people if it’s played too loudly and too early,” Blair said. “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. It’s a risk.”
Christmas music may be like a sort of opening bell to the holiday season.
“The songs actually trigger a countdown clock in our minds and can cause stress and anxiety about the number of items we need to complete before December 25th,” said Scott Dehorty, a licensed certified social worker and the executive director at Maryland House Detox, a treatment center in Linthicum Heights, Maryland.
“Instead of feeling warm feelings of family and giving,” he told Healthline, “it can trigger thoughts of how many people we need to shop for, party planning, traveling, seeing relatives we may not want to see, and all sort of negative feelings.”
Indeed, the Tampa Bay Times reports that Best Buy strikes the first chord on the Christmas compositions in stores on October 22.
Soon after that, on November 1, major brands like Sears, Michaels, and Lane Bryant follow.
From there, others start trickling in the tunes through November.
More than half of the retailers on the Times’ chart wait for the day of or the day after Thanksgiving.
The threat to sanity is especially strong for retail and seasonal workers who dish out holiday cheer despite the steady stream of stressed shoppers.
“People working in the shops at Christmas have to learn how to tune it out,” Blair said, “because if they don’t, it really does make you unable to focus on anything else. You simply are spending all your energy trying not to hear what you’re hearing.”
Kate Chapman, now a holistic medicine specialist, worked as Mrs. Claus in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular every holiday season from 2001 to 2006.
“I lived with a never-ending loop of holiday tunes and ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’ running through my brain,” she told Healthline.
For Chapman, the Christmas Creep started before Halloween each year, when rehearsals for the iconic Broadway shows began.
“I arrived each day and heard Christmas music spilling out from every room I passed,” she recalled. “The Rockettes rehearsed their numbers again and again and again, providing an endless loop of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ or ‘Christmas in New York.’ I sang and danced for hours each day, immersed in the world of Mrs. Claus. Christmas consumed me, day in, day out, until our opening before Thanksgiving.”
By the time December 25 arrived, Chapman, like many holiday workers and performers, had little room for real holiday cheer.
“It was utterly exhausting to manufacture Christmas exuberance four times a day. That kind of elation is wonderful when it’s real, but when it’s contrived, it can be a heavy load to hoist around,” she said.
“Of course, I tried to keep in perspective that spreading cheer of any kind is a good thing to do. It was much easier for me as Mrs. Claus than someone having to endure hearing the same CDs over the store loudspeaker, mixed with impatient customers, while working in retail or the food industry,” she said. “I was privileged to be working inside one of the most well-curated Christmas shows in the United States.”
Chapman’s realization of her role in the holiday festivities may have helped her retain some level of composure through the physical and emotional demands.
That clarity, Dehorty says, is precisely the perspective we all need to help us maintain stability in the hectic holiday season.
“While it’s difficult to not listen to Christmas music as you are out and about, you don’t have to enjoy it,” Dehorty says. “One issue is that we all feel like we should be enjoying the music and atmosphere — you don’t. Make the holiday what you want and enjoy it. Make it about giving or volunteering for those in need. Start new traditions you look forward to.”
In fact, if you relish the opportunity to cover your house in lights and garlands, then embrace it.
People who decorate for the holidays early may actually be happier than people who wait or don’t decorate at all, Steve McKeown, a British psychoanalyst, told UNILAD.
“In a world full of stress and anxiety, people like to associate to things that make them happy, and Christmas decorations evoke those strong feelings of childhood,” McKeown said. “Decorations are simply an anchor or pathway to those old childhood magical emotions of excitement, so putting up those Christmas decorations early extends the excitement.”
There’s another benefit of decorating for the holidays.
A study from the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that people who put up decorations signal to their neighbors that they’re more friendly and open than people who do not decorate.
Your love of inflatable snow globes and lighted reindeer may help you integrate yourself into your neighborhood and build a stronger social network of friends.
Having people around you who nurture and support you during the holiday season can actually help you endure it — especially if the moment ever comes when you’ve heard, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” just one too many times.