How Christmas Trees Affect Your Mental Health

Scientists say Christmas trees have a real effect on our mental well-being, but with some nuances.

Decorations placed on a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle, 24 November 2022 ©BelgaImage

Christmas will only arrive in a month but the fir trees in the houses are already starting to decorate the interiors. A boon for Wallonia, the second European player on this market after Denmark, which is starting to sell its shares, 80% of which will go abroad. In recent years, the sales calendar has tended to start earlier. This is what the nurseries interviewed by RTBF observed, who are even worried about this phenomenon. “With the heat at home we won’t be able to keep it until early January“, they confided on public television. And yet, this advance request can be justified in a certain way, since it could improve our well-being. In any case, this is what several scientists note. But be careful: a fir tree is not another and not it always has the same effect on our mental health!

The Nordmann, not the best choice

In the UK, the effects of the Christmas tree on our brains have been studied in particular by Birgitta Gatersleben, professor of environmental psychology at the University of Surrey. In 2014, she wrote an article on the subject and concluded that the presence of such a tree in the house really brings beneficial effects. For good reason: exposure to a natural environment reduces stress and mental fatigue. Having a Christmas tree at home helps reproduce this feeling.

Must read: The traditional Christmas tree was installed on the Grand-Place in Brussels (photo)

However, she points out that not all tree types are created equal. Only natural ones can produce this kind of effect, not artificial ones. “It’s really the depth of color of real trees and the smell that really draws people in, as well as the idea that they are alive.“At a time of year when the greenery outside has lost its luster, buying an artificial tree would therefore be a very bad idea from this point of view.

Another nuance to bring: even among natural species, some would have more effects than others. According to Birgitta Gatersleben, Norway spruce (Picea abies), for example, is preferable to good old Nordmann. It loses its thorns much more easily but in return its smell is stronger and would help to relax. Bad news for manufacturers since “Nordmann accounts for more than 75% of sales (and therefore of harvests) against 15% for classic spruce“, explains to La Libre Jonathan Rigaux, president of the Union Ardennaise des Pépinieristes – Christmas tree pilot center (UAP – CPSN).

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Buying your tree in advance, a good idea?

Along the same lines as Birgitta Gatersleben, other scientists argue that installing a tree at home is beneficial, even with even greater effects in the event of an advance purchase. This is the position taken by the psychoanalyst Steve McKeown during an interview with the British media Unilad. According to him, if people want to buy a tree in a hurry, it’s mainly to rediscover this nostalgia for Christmas. “In a world filled with stress and anxiety, people like to see things that make them happy, and Christmas decorations evoke those strong feelings right from childhood. Decorations are simply a gateway to those magical emotions from your childhood. By preparing decorations ahead of time, you prolong those feelings of excitement“, he judges.

But to get this famous tree, you obviously have to pay. Count around €30-50 for a copy. This price is also expected to trend higher this year with inflation, which is already putting a lot of pressure on households. In this anxiety-inducing context, seeing Christmas decorations blossom so early can, on the contrary, accentuate environmental stress, says Janelle S. Peifer, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Richmond. “People may wonder, “Am I late with vacation planning?” Am I disappointing myself or my family in any way (by not buying these decorations right away, ed)?”, he explains to health media Healthline. Several surveys conducted in the United States (particularly by the company Coinstar and the healthcare provider Sesame) have shown that holiday shopping is a major stressor at the end of the year.

A tree or other plant?

In summary, don’t lobby to get a Christmas tree. Beyond this aspect, if you don’t want to buy one (especially for ecological reasons), Birgitta Gatersleben insists that houseplants perform the same calming role, at least as long as their foliage is evergreen. . You can then use it to replace the traditional tree and place your decorations there. It may not be quite as nostalgic as a Christmas tree, but the effect is real.

Read: By the numbers: Christmas shopping

Other scientists share this same opinion. “People tend to be more compassionate when there are living plants in the house“, explains for example to CNN Charlie Hall, professor of the horticultural science department of Texas A&M University. But he also specifies: from this perspective,”Christmas trees obviously do the trick“.

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