11 December 2023

Why Christmas carols are good for your health

11 December 2023

Whether you’re belting out “FIVE! GOLD! RIIINGS!” at a carol concert or quietly enjoying an instrumental jazz rendition of Silent Night while putting the finishing touches to your mince pies, Christmas carols are an essential part of the festive season for many of us.

Dating back thousands of years (in 13th century France a ‘carole’ was a popular circle dance), these hymns have remained a time-honoured tradition, even in the face of stiff competition from the likes of Mariah Carey and Wham! with their modern festive classics.

Carols can really give you that magical festive feeling, but did you know they’re also good for your health – even if you’re not joining in the singing?

Here, experts talk through the physical and psychological benefits of Christmas carols…

Joy to the world

There’s actually a scientific reason ’tis the season to be jolly, and it’s all down to the so-called ‘happiness hormones’.

“Listening to music that we enjoy releases an exuberant combination of both dopamine and serotonin in our brains, helping us boost feelings of happiness and deep relaxation,” says Jasmine Eskenzi, founder and CEO of wellbeing and productivity app The Zensory.

That effect can be amplified if you’re singing, she explains: “Singing also triggers the release of oxytocin, which relieves feelings of anxiety.”

Similar to mindfulness meditation, it can be a powerful antidote to stress: “It forces us to focus on our breathing, freeing us from any thoughts coming in and out of our minds.”

Plus there’s the nostalgia factor, says Lowri Dowthwaite-Walsh, cognitive behavioural psychologist and honorary senior lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire: “The predictability of carols can be comforting and incorporating them into your Christmas traditions can offer structure at what can be a stressful time of year.”

Sing we joyous, all together

Joining with friends or family to watch a carol concert can be good for your mental health.

“Having a tradition like listening to carols at Christmas is something you can share with the people you love, which can help lift your mood,” Dowthwaite-Walsh says, even if you’re not singing along.

“Carols provide an opportunity for connection. Listening to carols can also provide a person with a sense of belonging.”

At a time of year when familial bonds may be tested (particularly when festive tipples are involved), singing seasonal tunes can help bring harmony (and not just the musical kind).

“According to substantial research, family traditions such as singing Christmas carols together, have a positive impact on family relationships,” says Dowthwaite-Walsh.

“Carols are a form of celebration and tradition, which are central to our humanity. They allow people to unite in the spirit of love and joy, which can help them become more compassionate towards each other.”

All is calm, all is bright

As well as the emotional and social aspects of Christmas carols, singing can boost your physical health too.

“We commonly talk about regular exercise, but actually there is evidence that regular singing can also lower your blood pressure,” says Dr Tom Jenkins, founder of cough and cold traditional medicine Centoreze.

“Research suggests that singing reduces the level of your stress hormone cortisol, and can have a positive effect on your blood vessels and heart. Singing also burns calories.”

Combined with the dopamine-releasing effects of crooning, ‘Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la,’ singing can be incredibly energising.

“Conscious breathing is instrumental when singing, as we’re forced to breathe deeply,” says Eskenzi.

“This helps us bring more oxygen into the bloodstream. Similarly, singing while standing can also have a positive effect on posture and overall health.”

Sing, choirs of angels

Getting little ones involved in the carolling fun can be great for their confidence.

“Beyond rekindling joyful childhood memories for adults, signing carols can significantly boost a child’s self-esteem, often giving them the opportunity to perform in front of an audience in a fun, low-stress environment,” says Tim Allardyce, health coach and CEO of children’s activity app Hoop.

“Additionally, the physical benefits of singing, such as improved lung function and breath control, are crucial for healthy respiratory development, ensuring a balanced exchange of CO2 and oxygen.”

Not to mention that socialising through song brings children together.

“In an age where technology often leads to isolated experiences, singing carols creates a unique opportunity for community engagement, enhancing social bonds,” Allardyce says.

“This aspect of group singing is not only enjoyable but hugely beneficial for mental health, providing a sense of belonging and shared joy during the festive season.”

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