Bring on the holiday cheer! Putting up holiday decor early can help boost your mental health
Posted November 18, 2020 9:51 a.m. EST
CNN — The stress and anxiety caused by 2020 is no secret and people seem to be coping as best they can: many with the help of a little holiday decor.
But does all the seasonal glitter create a false sense of happiness or do the holidays really cheer us up?
According to research, the holiday spirit really does brighten our mood, and the simple reasons why can actually be used to help lift our attitude and mental health all year round.
Twinkle lights and bright colors DO bring you joy
One of the first things most think about when it comes to the holiday season is lights. Millions of lights are used to celebrate the holidays inside the home and through public displays -- and this sense of sparkle is just one reason joy is signaled by your brain.
Introducing new sensory elements such as light, color and sound has the ability to boost our mental health and mood.
Psychologist and author Deborah Serani who is a professor at Adelphi University, told CNN that even listening to a certain kind of music can have an effect on mental health.
"We habituate ... you kind of get used to any setting you are in ... but when we introduce new things into our environment it stimulates our senses, and our senses are, of course, the wiring to our entire physiological system. So when we introduce color, light, sound -- the sound of music around the holiday time ... taste -- it makes us feel good," she said.
A study from the Swiss National Science Foundation backs up the theory that physical exposure to color can improve stress and anxiety.
After completing two studies on at least 60 people using color therapy, the researchers recorded a decrease in stress and anxiety levels by comparing before‐and-after scores.
Positive thoughts from the past are good for you
Nostalgia also plays into the positive vibes we get from decorating for the holidays mostly because, according to Serani, it's tied to optimism. Serani said that just pulling out decor that reminds you of a happy season or memory can instantly boost our mood.
Serani pointed to a study from the University of Southampton that not only ties nostalgia to giving us a positive view of the past, but suggests it can also help us find a positive view of the future.
Psychologist Vaile Wright has a similar view, and told CNN that with all the stress this year, caused by the pandemic and the election, the holidays are a good way to orient our brains and get us to think about the future.
"Having a future orientation is actually really important to mental health, well-being, and moral. To the extent that we are using the holidays ... as an anchor, of something to look forward to, something to plan towards ... I think can be really helpful," Wright said.
"Our emotions make judging time pretty inaccurate. When we are really anxious it feels like time slows down, but when we are excited it feels like time speeds up, so to the extent that it could also make it feel like the next month and a half go by faster, I think people are looking forward to that."
Make sure to give yourself a break
Wright emphasizes that accepting that this holiday season will not be like any other season we have had is important to our overall mental health.
"What's critical is our mindset, I think that if we can view the holidays as an opportunity to try new things and new traditions, instead of something being taken away from us, then I think that mindset will set us up for success," she said.
"Maybe putting up your holiday decorations early becomes a new tradition because it brings joy to your home."
Serani said that, of course, not everyone finds the holidays enjoyable. But for those that do find joy in the season there is never a wrong time to start decorating.
"Those that do enjoy it, the sooner you can put up your Christmas stuff the more you'll gain the benefits from it," she said.
And for those who find the holidays difficult, the good news is that these principles do not have to be applied specifically to holiday decor. Serani said even getting some new throw pillows or changing regular decor can have the same effect.
The moral of the story is, don't be afraid to go ahead and throw up some decor as early as you want for your mental health, 'tis the season to be jolly!