Music for Self Care: 10 ways to reduce holiday stress using music
Carla Tanguay
December 21, 2018
Music Facilitator for Groups

The holidays can be a joyous or a stressful time of year. Most often, it is both. Trying to juggle holiday traditions, workplace expectations, gift buying, decorating and cooking, along with the daily demands of modern life quickly becomes overwhelming. These feelings can intensify if you have young kids, elderly parents, or family members with special needs.

You’ve heard many times how important self care is. But sometimes, a self care practice can feel like just one more thing on your to-do-list. In this post, you will find easy ways music can help reduce your stress that you will actually want to use! Some of these ideas ask you to set aside a little time or space for yourself. Others can be done during your commute, with your family, or when you feel a meltdown coming on.

1. Create a sacred space.

When the chaos of the holidays descends upon us, having a refuge to retreat to can be an emotional lifesaver. While not everyone has a man-cave or she-shed, you can create a space for calm and reflection anywhere using music. A sacred space is a place (physical or theoretical) specifically dedicated to renewing your spirit and focusing inward. Visiting this space for even 5 minutes a day can help reduce stress.

When using music to create a sacred space, I highly recommend a pair of good quality headphones. If external noise exists nearby, noise-cancelling headphones are even better. The idea is to be able to close your eyes, shut out the world, and enter a different level of awareness. Select one or two special songs that you use specifically during this practice. Over time, they will become a cue to your body and mind that it is time to relax and go within.

2. Get moving.

Music moves us- literally. When we hear music, our bodies want to move. And physical exercise is key to wellness and stress reduction. You don’t need a gym membership to exercise, you just need music! Find upbeat music of whatever genre you prefer and get moving. Typically, songs with a tempo of 120 beat per minute are best for walking and 160 beats per minute pair well with jogging or more intense exercise.

Not all exercise is aerobic. You can also use music to support stretching or yoga practices. Put on your favorite type of music, preferably with a slower tempo, and take time just to stretch, move, and breathe.

3. Share a memory.

Listening to music from the past is like taking a trip back in time. Putting on a favorite song, particularly one connected to positive, warm memories, instantly changes the mood of a room and sparks memories. If you have a friend or family member with memory loss, familiar music can be a particularly powerful way to connect. Memory for music is often preserved in people with neurologic conditions, and you may be surprised to hear your loved one singing along or even sharing old memories cued by the music.

4. Identify triggers.

Not all music has positive associations. Some songs bring back painful memories or reflect difficult feelings that you may not be ready to process during the hectic holiday season. Hearing “I’ll be Home for Christmas” while preparing for your first Christmas after a spouse leaves, or listening to the favorite song of a parent who just passed away can catch us off-guard and really take our breath away. It is helpful to identify these triggers ahead of time and develop strategies for coping when you aren’t able to avoid them completely.

5. Laugh!

Humor is a great stress reliever. Take every opportunity to laugh and create moments of joy and fun this holiday season. Music provides lots of opportunities for laughter, if you don’t take yourself too seriously. Have a sing-along, but require the use of funny voices, whistling, or alternative lyrics. Give kazoos as stocking stuffers. Watch a funny holiday music video. Anything that gets you laughing.

6. Set an intention.

When you are feeling overwhelmed, it is helpful to simply stop and set an intention. This is particularly important during the holidays, when it is so easy to lose sight of why we are doing everything we are doing. Setting an intention means asking yourself, “Why am I doing this? What do I want from this?”

Music can help keep your intention front of mind as you go throughout your day. Pick a song to serve as a reminder when you inevitably get distracted from your intention. I love the song, “Reminder” by Travis, but it doesn’t need to be that overt. Your choice should gently bring your attention back to your intention.

7. Make some music.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret- you don’t need to be a “musician” to make music. Maybe you are already an accomplished shower-singer or carpool karaoke star. That’s great! During the stressful holiday season, keep singing. If you don’t already have a musical outlet, find one. Maybe there is a drum circle or community choir in your town. Maybe you have a dusty old keyboard or guitar hidden in the back of your closet. Maybe you just need to remind yourself to put on your favorite songs and sing with your kids in the car. However you can participate in making music, make it happen. You will feel better.

8. Create a special playlist.

Music is intricately connected to our emotions, as it activates regions of our brain associated with reward, motivation, and arousal. You can tap into the power of music to change your mood by creating special playlists with that goal in mind. A great place to start is by making an “energize” and a “calm down” playlist.

Energizing music, no matter the genre, has certain qualities that activate our bodies and make us feel, well, energized. It captures your attention, pulls you in, and makes you feel good. Pick songs with faster tempos, upbeat lyrics, and positive associations. Examples of energizing music include “Dancing Queen” by ABBA, “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, “Summer” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and “Gonna Make You Sweat” by C&C Music Factory. Most importantly, it needs to be music that you like and feel connected to.

A calming playlist uses music with slower tempos and simple accompaniment. You should again stick to your favorite genres of music, and select pieces that cue you to focus your attention inward. Once you have create these two playlists, use them to help transition into the headspace you want to be in. You’ll be surprised how effective music can be.

9. Have a family dance party!

What is something that incorporates the stress-relieving qualities of music, exercise, laughter, and togetherness, and can be done with any age? A family dance party!

Dancing is fun, good for you, and a great stress reliever. And being a “bad” dancer just makes a dance party more entertaining! Kids of all ages will be delighted to see you let go of your inhibitions, embrace the awkward, and just dance. Age and physical ability don’t mean much when you are dancing. You can get a great groove on seated in a chair. Simple instruments (bells, spoons, sticks) can get reluctant dancers involved. All that matters is moving to the music in your own way, and having fun.

10. Gift yourself music.

Sometimes the most important thing you can do during the holiday season is give yourself a gift. Why not make it the gift of music? You give of yourself all year long, through your time, attention, love, money, and care. You carve out precious time to ensure that others have what they need. This year, make a commitment to set aside some time for yourself. Music can provide a perfect structure for your “me” time. Join a music group or choir. Learn to play an instrument, or take refresher lessons on one you loved long ago. Attend a community drum circle. Buy yourself a subscription to your favorite music streaming service. Book yourself a self-care music therapy session. Making music a part of your life is one of the best ways you can care for yourself this coming year.