The holidays can be hard on your mind – keeping track of gift lists, parties that go late into the night, the stress of family get-togethers, feelings of loneliness, and financial pressures can be a real brain drain. Fortunately, some holiday traditions can actually be good for your brain.
The Christmas season is rich with traditions. The most popular yuletide traditions include decorating the tree, baking cookies, singing Christmas carols, exchanging gifts, sharing meals with loved ones, writing letters to Santa, and even wearing ugly sweaters.
How Holiday Traditions Boost Brain Health
Traditions create connections to our past and to each other
Traditions are essential to mental well-being because they help us connect with our roots. Using your grandmother’s recipe for turkey and stuffing can help you recreate the holiday meals you had as a child, for example, and it can rekindle memories of a simpler, happier time. Traditions also give children a sense of identity, help them learn about their ancestors and heritage, and fosters conversations between family members and across generations.
Traditions reward the brain with warm, fuzzy feelings
Your brain has its own reward system that reinforces positive behaviors and deters bad behavior. Specifically, when you do something good, your brain rewards you with a burst of dopamine. Also known as the “feel good hormone” or the “happy hormone,” dopamine enhances reward-related memories. Dopamine also stimulates the brain’s learning and memory center.
Many holiday traditions trigger the release of dopamine. Exchanging gifts activates the area of the brain associated with reward, for example, as does making charitable donations.
Holiday traditions can reduce stress and improve overall health too
Your favorite Christmas carols and other seasonal songs can promote positive feelings and may even boost the immune system.
Scientists asked 1,779 singers if they perceived any health benefits from singing in a choir. The vocalists said that singing together promoted social connection, physical and psychological benefits, mental health, cognitive stimulation, enjoyment, and wholeness. Other studies support the findings, with children and adults reporting a feeling of well-being and social connection with others when they sing—particularly when they sing in groups.
Low-stress singing also may also reduce the stress hormone, cortisol.
For better brain health this year, enjoy more holiday traditions with your family. Give a few more gifts, sing a little louder, and spend more time with the ones you love – your brain will thank you for it.
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