Lights, Trees, Tinsel: The Earlier, the Merrier?

Nov. 9, 2018 — Matthew Kidd has battled depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, and PTSD most of his life.

Things got especially bad in 2013 when Kidd and his wife, Danielle, lost their Pennsylvania home to a fire. It pushed them to move to South Carolina, away from Kidd’s family, which made it all worse. When the holidays came around, he felt especially low. “It was seasonal depression. Christmas was coming. Our family was not close by. I didn’t many friends around,” says Kidd, 34.

But as they got back on their feet in a new state, they started to go big for the holidays. “Ten to 12 inflatables, angel, Santa Claus, window clings, banners, lots of garland, lots of sparkle,” the couple say as they talk over each other, listing all the items in their inventory. And it made a difference. “We were festive,” he says.

So, last year, he thought, why not capitalize on all that feel-good energy as early as possible? They decorated for Christmas the day after Halloween.

“I said, ‘We’re going to decorate now,’ because since I battle depression and anxiety, I thought, if we don’t do it now, this could all turn around real quick, and I might not want to do it all,” Kidd says. “So we did it, and it worked.” Bringing out the holiday cheer made him actually feel it.

Could it work for you? There’s not a lot of science to back up the theory that you can change your mood by changing your surroundings this way.

Whether twinkling lights, Christmas carols, and the scent of gingerbread and pine will help boost your otherwise low spirits all depends on what the holidays mean to you. If it’s truly the most wonderful time of the year for you, bringing those positive associations to mind earlier will most likely … er … make your spirit bright. But if you associate the holidays with a bad memory — for example, if you lost a parent this time last year — decorating early might not be the best thing.

“We all form associations with the stuff in our physical world. It sends us very powerful, nonverbal messages that only change in extreme situations, such as the death of a loved one,” says Sally Augustin, PhD, an applied environmental psychologist who runs Design with Science in Chicago. She recommends designs to her clients based on environmental psychology research that explains how physical surroundings affect people’s feelings, thoughts, and behavior.

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