Already decorating for the holidays? Psychologists explain how it can relieve stress amid pandemic

Psychologists say there's science to support that the bright colors, familiar smells and nostalgia create happiness in the brain.
REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (KGO) -- When is it too early to put up holiday decorations at home? This year, people already are. Psychologists say it's a manifestation of the stress and social isolation the coronavirus pandemic has created.

You expect retail centers to have their decorations up by now to spread holiday cheer for shoppers. But something different is happening this year.

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"When my family and my kids asked if we would put our tree up a week before Thanksgiving, I relented," said Claire Magat an executive at Balsam Hill in Redwood City. "It's hard to say no to bringing that joy into our homes a little bit after the year it's been."

Balsam Hill, a Peninsula company known for its pre-lit artificial trees, has seen sales spike 200 percent on some days compared to last year. Psychologists say after a year of pandemic stress, people need to lift their spirits.

"Putting up things that are colorful, things that smell good, things that kind of evoke nostalgia and good memory cause happiness in our brain kind of gives us a dopamine hit, which is really the feel good neurotransmitter," said Dr. Sarah Adler, a psychologist at Stanford Health Care.

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The tree lot operated by Kiwanis International San Jose at Cambrian Park Plaza doesn't open until Friday, but they've already sold six trees even as they're unloading them and setting up.

"Some people are celebrating with a few of their family members for now, so they'll not be with them for Christmas, so they're wanting to celebrate now," said Susan Bates with Kiwanis San Jose.

The Kiwanis lot is expecting to sell about 1,500 trees this year. Balsam Hill expects a possible shortage of some of its popular trees right after Thanksgiving.

"Inventory will likely be limited given this demand is unprecedented," said Claire Magat. "We did not anticipate this going in to this year. We place our orders in this industry up to a year in advance."

This has been a challenging year for kids, too.

"Kiddos look to us to kind of decide what they feel and think," said Stanford Health Care's Dr. Adler, "so if we're creating positive traditions, and we're actually creating joy through early decoration, I think our kids benefit, too."

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