House Calls: Relax, these holidays can be stress-free

Written by Melody Pope November 20, 2012 12:00 am

Editor’s note: This is a special holiday installment of House Calls, which usually appears every other Saturday. Today’s column is written by Melody Pope, Medical Care Unit staff nurse at Sutter Coast Hospital.

Did we really just move right out of Halloween and into Christmas? What happened to Thanksgiving?

Every time I turn around in the stores I am finding Christmas decorations. Wait, Christmas cookies too? What? Do I really want to purchase those now?

Today I went into True Value to do some shopping and just had to thank the folks there for not moving right from Halloween to Christmas. Isn’t there another holiday in between? Are we forgetting Thanksgiving? 

Who among us is not looking forward to some great times with family and friends and a big ’ol turkey dinner with all the fixins’? Yet, here I am feeling pressured to get busy with the Christmas shopping, planning, baking, and, by golly, I had better be jolly getting it all done.

Many people know about my overall affection for fowl. I have chickens. Yes, I sing to them. I spoil them. They are my pets. I do not have turkeys, at least not yet. You see, turkeys are not the smartest among the fowl. We’ve all heard they don’t come in out of the rain. I don’t know if that’s scientific, but I am thinking of getting a couple just to see.

The hunters in my family tell me that hunting turkeys is easy because they stay in a “home range.” My nephew hunts and he tells me a good shot can pick off an entire group of turkeys pretty fast because they don’t figure out the danger until it’s too late.

 Where am I going with this? I am dating myself telling you this, but ... when I was growing up, when people were acting especially goofy others would call them a “turkey.” We all know those people. They have a lot of drama. They may not think too logically sometimes. They usually do things the hard way. Nothing can be simple. They fail to recognize danger in a situation.

Where’s the danger in moving straight from Halloween to Christmas? Pressure. Pressure leads to stress. Stress leads to a number of biological, psychological and social problems that can lead to illness. When we feel stressed, our body responds in a way we call “fight or flight.” We decide if we are going to be ready to fight or run away from the situation or thing that is causing us stress.

Researchers have demonstrated to us that this response is automatic and served our ancestors quite well when they encountered threats like a bear or a wildcat. This “fight or flight” response causes our pupils to open wider, our heart rate to go up, our breathing to speed up, our blood pressure to go up, and the force of the contraction of our heart to increase.

If we continue on in this manner, not getting a break from the stress, then we can be overloaded, or exhausted, from too much stress. This can lead to very real, very serious, illness. For example, stress can lead to depression around the holidays from feeling powerless to meet the expectations you or others have set for you. Stress can create anxiety about what the holidays might be like, or what problems might come up, and interfere with your ability to concentrate and put you at risk for injuries while going about your daily life.

Maybe you just can’t deal with any more stress and you have one too many drinks. This leads to a loss of motor control, a loss of awareness, and places you and others around you in danger. While all of our local doctors and the great folks over at Sutter do a really good job of helping us when we get sick or hurt, who wants to spend any of the holiday season in the hospital when it could have been avoided by recognizing the dangers associated with stress?

Depression, anxiety, and increased risk of accident are just some of the more common dangers of stress. The list goes on and on.

Recognize the danger of stress. Let go of the pressure. Let go of the stress. Who cares if the neighbor already has Christmas lights up and you don’t even know where you packed them last year? What’s the worst thing that will happen if you don’t get them up? Let it go.

What if you don’t find the perfect gift? Will the recipient care? Did you always get the perfect gift? Did you care less for someone because of it? Let it go.

What if your Christmas comes in December, just like it is scheduled, and it isn’t rushed into right after Halloween? What a great idea! I’d love to say it is my original idea, but it isn’t.

See, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. If you think back on your favorite holidays, I’ll bet there is a Thanksgiving in there somewhere. It was a time when family and friends were together having fun. Maybe there was great food. Maybe there was a time the turkey wasn’t so great. They can get pretty dry. You probably smothered it in gravy and ate it anyway. Maybe you remember the pie, or the stuffing, or the fixins’.

Maybe that was the last holiday you spent with a particular person you loved. Just talking, eating, and celebrating all you have to be thankful for. Maybe you didn’t know what you had to be thankful for until you were asked what you were thankful for.

That’s the greatest part of Thanksgiving. No pressure to buy just the right gift. No stress about decorations. No burden to carry about how to pay off all of those purchases you felt pressured into making.

Don’t be a turkey and fail to recognize the danger of moving from Halloween to Christmas. For now, how about no stress, just thankfulness?