Nerd Factor: Surviving Christmas Music Overload

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

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Music is an important part of the holiday tradition. However, at this time of year, many people find themselves facing increased levels of anxiety and physically debilitating symptoms due to their exposure to these festive songs. Christmas Music Overload, or CMO, is a recently diagnosed condition that was not just made up for the purposes of a comedy column and it strikes millions of Americans every year in late November and all through December. Always concerned for your safety, the Nerd Factor offers these helpful suggestions for living with CMO:

  1. Recognize your condition. Scientists are still in the early stages of understanding CMO. Where some believe the condition to be entirely psychological in nature, others argue that CMO functions more like an allergic response or even autoimmune disorder where the body turns upon itself in response to the celebratory music. Whatever the cause, CMO manifests in stages that are remarkably similar to Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief. Sufferers move through a denial stage (“It’s not Christmas yet”), an anger stage (“What are they doing playing Christmas music this early???”), a bargaining stage (“Maybe I can just change the radio station”), and then a depression stage (“The music is everywhere *sigh* *sob* *cry*”). There is, of course, no acceptance stage.


  1. Understand that Christmas music is inescapable. Nostalgia is a tricky phenomenon, particularly in holiday contexts. Many people will argue that there used to be more Christmas music playing. These recollections are incorrect. Christmas music reaches full saturation about two weeks before the holiday, playing in every store and public environment. CMO sufferers may hold out hope that the one classic rock station on their car radio pre-selects will hold out, but even it will fall to holiday tunes sometime around Christmas Eve.


  1. Accept that you will eventually hear Wham!’s “Last Christmas.” Or Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You”. Or that one about the shoes— Oh no, oh no, oh no . . . I can’t breathe . . . why would anyone write a song like that? What kind of a world do we live in where something like THAT could even exist??? I’m not. . . I don’t. .  Phew, okay, I’m back. So look, if you’ve got CMO just prepare for the worst because eventually you will hear it. Identify a warm, safe space in your home that can serve as a retreat. When out in public, have a kit ready. That kit should include water, a nutritious snack mix that can raise your energy levels quickly, and identifying information in case of unconsciousness.


  1. Develop an earworm destroyer. All popular music is designed to hook listeners with catchy beats, tunes, and/or lyrics. Christmas music is certainly guilty of this as well. At this time of year, it becomes entirely possible for a CMO sufferer to have Christmas music just playing in his or her head. Studies have shown, however, if a person has prepared an “earworm destroyer” to play in his or her mind in advance, it is possible to blast that music away. The Nerd Factor recommends Elmer Bernstein’s “Theme from the Magnificent Seven” (1960). It kills other songs 99% of the time.


  1. Find a CMO support group. As people around you seem to glaze over in holiday music enjoyment, know that you are not alone. Stay strong.
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