HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: The curse of the Christmas carol

OPINION

Call me the Grinch but I cannot stand your average generic Christmas carol. Jingle Bells? More like Jingle Hells! Joy to the World? It's actually "this song is draining all the joy left in me and putting it in some dark place”. There’s really nothing splendid about it.

The compositional style, even after it was played with over the years, is generic and unpleasing to the ear. There is no arousing from the string section of Jingle Hells if you listen to it without the vocals. There is only the harmonic support that is torturously repetitive.

The lyrics have many a time been described as magical, like the Christmas song genre itself. Sure, but it’s a dark magic. And if you don’t trust me, you can trust science.

There have been actual studies about why people find this kind of music to be a downer, and not charming or spirit lifting at all.

There are scientific reasons for it all is three points, in a nutshell:

  1. It becomes boring to the soul and boredom for a creative who needs variety and silence, a lot of silence, is quite damaging to their mental health;

  2. The repetition of this music playing everywhere over and again can put the body in distress and fill it with anxiety, which leads to the next point;

  3. It serves as a trigger. Rudolf the Rednose Reindeer, does not deliver presents, he delivers pressure and problems – or at least the thought of upcoming problems. Have I budgeted properly for the holiday season? Will I have enough finances when life continues after this red, white and green moment? Will I manage, with all the social anxieties in the world, the interaction with family? Will I perform well? Oh god, then there’s the travel. Do I have the logistics on point? Have I calenderised all dates and times. Have I set reminders?

The human brain is a complicated, fascinating thing. It is affected by the smallest of triggers and can suffer from oversaturation. Hearing Away in a Manger more than three times in different environments can cause it. There is of course only so much we can take before the constant inundation of what these popularly categorised cheerful tunes can start to reinforce existing stress, create new stressors and start to block the smooth transitions of our neurogical pathways that we usually rely on to control or relieve our stress during any other season.

Dr Oluwagbenga Odeyemi, consultant psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Woodbourne in the United Kingdom, says: “Christmas is a time when our to-do lists become longer, and it is likely that people are starting to ask more and more of you. If you feel you have too much on your plate, it is okay to push back and say no to responsibilities that you just can’t take on.”

So what will help? It’s something loosely referred to as cheer management. And it really is as simple as paying attention to the playlist and adding variety. It really is okay to play music from any other time and style during the holiday season. Nothing will break. If you don’t do this, however, the thing that might crumble is our sense of interest as boredom sets in while we suffer in silence from cognitive fatigue.

Here are seven helpful things you can do to manage both your anxiety and your cheer according to Priory:

The human brain is a complicated, fascinating thing. It is affected by the smallest of triggers and can suffer from oversaturation. Hearing Away in a Manger more than three times in different environments can cause it. There is of course only so much we can take before the constant inundation of what these popularly categorised cheerful tunes can start to reinforce existing stress, create new stressors and start to block the smooth transitions of our neurogical pathways that we usually rely on to control or relieve our stress during any other season.

Dr Oluwagbenga Odeyemi, consultant psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Woodbourne in the United Kingdom, says: “Christmas is a time when our to-do lists become longer, and it is likely that people are starting to ask more and more of you. If you feel you have too much on your plate, it is okay to push back and say no to responsibilities that you just can’t take on.”

So what will help? It’s something loosely referred to as cheer management. And it really is as simple as paying attention to the playlist and adding variety. It really is okay to play music from any other time and style during the holiday season. Nothing will break. If you don’t do this, however, the thing that might crumble is our sense of interest as boredom sets in while we suffer in silence from cognitive fatigue.

Here are seven helpful things you can do to manage both your anxiety and your cheer according to Priory:

1. Avoid unhelpful social comparisons
If we don’t think we measure up to those we see online, it can have a negative impact on our self-esteem. Social media and consumer advertising can make this worse, leading to feelings of inferiority that damage our mental health.

2. Have realistic expectations about family gatherings
Being realistic about what you can expect from this time will help to avoid disappointment and help you get more out of it. It might also help to avoid a few of those traditional Christmas rows around the dinner table!

3. Participate in your local community
If you’ve recently lost a loved one, we understand that it’s likely to feel extremely difficult coping with the first festive season without them. Many organisations offer support at Christmas, so finding out what is available in your local area may provide you with a powerful source of support. Volunteering at one of these events might also be a good way of reducing loneliness and giving you a sense of purpose if you’re spending Christmas alone this year.

4. Take a break
Allow yourself to take time out if you find your stress levels rising. You may want to head out for a walk, go out for a coffee or listen to music - whatever will help you to relax or unwind.

5. Everything in moderation
Try to avoid overindulgence, whether you’re home alone or in the company of others – don’t be afraid to politely decline if you’re a guest at someone’s house.

6. Look after yourself
Your calendar might be filling up fast, but try to put some time aside to look after yourself. Exercise, good diet and plenty of quality sleep are as important at Christmas as at any other time of the year.

7. Don’t look back on the past year
As Christmas is the end of the chronological year, people tend to look back on what they have achieved and what they haven’t. If you’re suffering with depression or low self-esteem, there is a real risk that any negative feelings of under-achievement, or the past year not living up to your expectations, are exacerbated. Focus on the positives and set goals you want to achieve in the following year.

No one wants fatigue when all we’re supposed to be experiencing should be festive.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.