10 Ways You Can Make This Holiday a Happy One

How to Cope with Difficult Emotions through Music and Music Therapy

In the media, the holidays are portrayed as some of the happiest times of the year. But in reality, most of us are overwhelmed by the tasks they bring -- shopping, visiting family, budgeting, etc.

With the help of music therapy, you can start enjoying holidays instead of dreading them! We put together this list in order to make your holidays as harmless as a sugar plum fairy.

Do You Have Seasonal Depression?

Before we get to the list, it’s important to understand the difference between feeling overwhelmed and being depressed, which may require medical treatment.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a depression that occurs each year at the same time, typically starting in the fall and lasting until spring.

In the United States, about half a million people suffer from SAD. Usually, depression starts in early adulthood, but it can occur in children and adolescents. If you live in a cloudy region or at high latitudes, you are more likely to be affected by SAD.

Those who suffer from seasonal depression usually show these symptoms or other related signs:

  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Extreme fatigue and lack of energy
  • A “leaden” sensation in the limbs
  • An increased amount of sleeping
  • Weight gain and cravings

If you are experiencing multiple of the previously listed symptoms, you may want to speak with your therapist or healthcare provider.

Make your holiday happy again with this list we put together in order to help you process stress and difficult emotions!

1. Try Songwriting

According to a recent study, writing about your pain really helps.

“Music is the most accessible and most researched medium of art and healing, and there has been a principal emphasis on the soothing capacity of music... such stimulation abolishes pain.” -- AM J Public Health

Songwriting helps us process difficult and intense emotions. In music therapy, songwriting is a challenging and creative coping mechanism that is used to express and overcome these emotions and traumas.

2. Bang a Drum

Hands bang bongo drums within a colorful drum circle.
Drumming is commonly used for emotional release. Image courtesy of Visit Bastrop.

Before antidepressants and formal therapy, different cultures actually used communal drumming as a form of treatment for depression.

Research shows that drumming benefits our minds and bodies. When drumming, our immune system strengthens, and we start to battle the psychological emotions of depression.

Take a note from our ancestors and give drum circles a try!

3. Sing!

One of the easiest ways you can relieve stress is to sing. You can do it practically anywhere -- the shower, the car, the backyard. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be an opera prodigy in order to induce signs of stress relief.

Singing slows our pulses and heart rates, lowers our blood pressure, and decreases the level of cortisol (stress hormones) in our bodies. Along with this, making music stimulates the production of dopamine (the happy chemical). By singing, you’re self-medicating!

4. Play New Instruments

Learning to play a new instrument will spark your confidence and self-esteem. Music counselors can instruct patients on how to play an instrument even if they’ve never picked one up before.

Instruments allow us to communicate emotions we might not be ready to speak about yet. They also help those who suffer from depression to enjoy hobbies once again and have something to look forward to. Plus, it’s always exciting to learn a new skill.

A woman teases an older man in a gray sweatshirt to play electric guitar.
You can learn a new instrument at any age. Image courtesy of IOT Worm.

5. Listen to Music

It’s as easy as that. Turn on an upbeat pop song and all of a sudden, you find yourself a bit happier than you were a second ago. Music has tons of healing properties -- we are still discovering more!

Here are a couple of things that happen when your brain listens to music

  • Dopamine is created, which enhances mood
  • Stress decreases from the triggering of biomedical stress reducers
  • Memories are stimulated
  • Pain is managed due to competing stimuli
  • Endurance is increased

6. Dance

Emotions can also be expressed through movement. Using dance as a therapeutic tool can better your mood, improve your communication skills, and awake your sense of empowerment.

Dancing also serves as a form of exercise, which helps to get those endorphins up!

A young woman dances in her pajamas in the kitchen.
Dancing can boost your immune system as well as mood. Image courtesy of Harvard Health.

7. Discuss Lyrics

Creating a discussion around lyrics is a popular musical therapy exercise that evokes strong emotional reactions. If you’re not ready to try therapy, grab some friends and talk about why a song matters to you or what you think the artist is trying to convey.

By doing so, you will find it easier to relate to the lyrics, providing a perfect opportunity to share what it is that is paining you.

8. Find a Support Group

There is no shame in asking for help. Joining a group music therapy session is a great way to meet others who may be experiencing similar feelings and situations as you. Many people find lifelong friends in support groups.

9. Meditate

Take some time out of your busy holiday schedule to listen to a guided meditation. This form of music therapy includes voiced instruction backed by soothing sounds and music. You can easily find guided meditations online, or you can enroll in a music therapy program for individualized sessions.

Meditation is related to various health benefits:

  • stress reduction
  • decreased anxiety and depression
  • improved memory
  • reduced blood pressure
  • pain reduction
  • lower cholesterol
  • decreased risk of heart disease and stroke

10. Stay Connected

Don’t let yourself forget about friends and family during these stressful times -- they’re here to help! The holidays give you time to reflect on the past, but they also help you create new memories with the ones you love. If you find yourself hiding, be reminded that you are not alone in this world.

Five friends take a happy picture on a road trip.
Sharing our emotions with others is one step towards healing. Image courtesy of Jooin.com.

If you feel yourself slipping when the winter months come around, practice these therapeutic activities to ground yourself. For further assistance and specialization, contact a music therapist today. Now go and put the happy back in “Happy Holidays!”

Edited by Cara Jernigan on January 24, 2021.

Jessica Fortunato
Jessica Fortunato is a writer who also enjoys photography, music, and hiking.
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