Some people love the scent of a freshly-cut pine tree, others love the ease of an artificial tree, but no matter which one you prefer to decorate with ornaments and lights, Christmas trees are a beloved holiday tradition. But as popular as artificial trees have become, thanks to their convenience and longevity, it turns out they just don’t offer the same mental health benefits you get from spending time around real trees.
Multiple studies have found that taking walks through a forest, known as forest bathing, can have a positive effect on well-being and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And indoor plants – including real Christmas trees – can offer some of those same benefits. Charlie Hall, professor of horticultural sciences at Texas A&M University explains that having a real Christmas tree can have a positive effect on mental health, including easing anxiety and depression. “People tend to be compassionate in the presence of live plants in the house,” he says, “and of course Christmas trees fit the bill.”
According to Hall, picking out a tree at a Christmas tree farm with loved ones brings even more mental health benefits, as it promotes bonding and gets you outside. Plus, real Christmas trees bring fresh oxygen inside – as long as the needles are green – and can boost your immune system because evergreen trees produce phytoncide, a chemical that increases natural killer cell activity, Hall explains, adding that natural killer cells fight viral infections and are a part of our immune system. And an artificial tree, as pretty and easy as it might be, just can’t do all that.