Okay, I’m going to own up to something.
When I get in the shower, I turn into Tom Jones.
Not physically, mind….
I don’t mean that I suddenly sprout dark chest hair…
And I don’t mean that Lara barges into the bathroom and start throwing pairs of knickers at me.
When I am in the mood, I do start to belt out songs VERY loudly, like an ageing Welsh pop star.
Now, I’ll admit I’m not exactly talented.
(I think my neighbours might say that I’m not talented at all.)
But there’s something very liberating and energising about singing at the top of your lungs.
Genuinely, I feel better for it afterwards.
And in the merry month of December, I know that a lot of people who don’t normally sing out loud also get an inkling of how good it feels.
For instance, you could ask the person who staggered past our house (presumably on the way home from a festive session at the local pub) singing Maria Carey’s All I Want For Christmas at an incredibly high volume last night.
Or maybe you’re the sort of person who likes to go carol singing, or you get together with your friends for a bit of karaoke.
Again, this is an activity when people who might not usually sing suddenly get into it and usually find it a fantastic buzz.
In health terms, there’s a lot going for it, too.
- Decreased stress! A 2017 research study found that singing can relieve stress. They did it by measuring the cortisol (a stress hormone) in participants’ saliva before and after singing. And they found that it decreased!
- Boosts your immune response! A 2004 paper compared the effects of singing with the effects of just listening to music. The singers had much more raised levels of immunoglobulin A, compared with the listeners. This is the antibody your body secretes when it needs to fight off an infection.
- Better lung function! Numerous studies have shown that the kind of controlled breathing techniques you use when singing very loudly can strengthen your lungs and help ease COPD, asthma, and cystic fibrosis.
- Reduced snoring! A 2008 study found that significantly fewer choir members snore than regular non-choir folk.
- Better mental health. Singing out loud helps in coping with grief and anxiety, offering mental health benefits even when performed alone, such as in a car or shower.
So, this month if you feel like belting out ‘Fairy Tale of New York’ (RIP Shane MacGowan!) or the usual classics by Slade and Wizard, then you really should!
And if you’re too shy to do it in public, then find a time when the house is empty, put a hot shower on, and
transform yourself into Tom Jones or Mariah Carey (or whoever you like!)
The Healing Power of the Festive Season
When I started thinking about this subject, I realised that there are quite a few subtle benefits to the festive season.
Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas for religious reasons, it’s generally a time of office parties, family get togethers and at least a day or two off work.
And this leads to another very healthy activity…
Like singing, this is also really good for you.
Laughing not only enhances your intake of oxygen, benefiting your heart and muscles, but it also releases endorphins, those feel-good brain chemicals.
It relaxes your body for up to 45 minutes afterwards and decreases stress hormones, boosting your immune system in the process.
Research has shown that laughter can help in relieving pain, too.
So don’t shy away from get-togethers with friends and colleagues – it could be just what your sort joints and immune system need.
There’s even some evidence that ‘Christmas cheer’ itself is good for you.
In 2015, there was a study at the University of Denmark where people were shown images with either a Christmas or non-Christmas theme while having their brain monitored in an MRI machine.
The festive images lit up a network of brain regions that the non-festive images didn’t.
So, what was this network?
They wondered if it was something connected to the way that memories trigger a response – all those childhood feelings, perhaps, coming to life at the sight of certain images.
Saying that, I also know that this can be a painful time of year for those who have lost loved ones or have become estranged from friends and family members.
In which case, it might not be that December is as good for your mental health as others.
Still, you should find as many ways to sing and laugh with new people in your life so that you can forge new memories to make the season merrier in the future.
Saying that – ask me in two weeks how I feel about Christmas when I am skint, peopled-out and a stone heavier… and I might shout “BAH HUMBUG!”