Healthy Lifestyle

Avoiding the Stress (and Germs) of Holiday Shopping

The crowds, the lines, the holiday cheer (or sometimes lack thereof). The limited parking spaces, the craze of new gadgets, the hustle and bustle of it all. When it comes to holiday shopping, you either love it, or you don’t.

If you’re one of the many who don’t, I can’t promise to change your mind, but I can offer tips to help keep you healthy and sane as you make your way through all of those wish lists.

Relax. Stress can make you sick

Finding the perfect gifts for friends, family, teachers and coworkers can be physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting. The financial burden is often worse. That kind of stress can make you sick! Really.

While viral illnesses are more common during the winter months, stress actually decreases the immune system’s ability to fight off infection. If the immune system isn’t functioning at its best, illnesses such as the common cold, RSV, influenza, pneumonia or gastroenteritis can have more severe symptoms and can last longer than in healthy, nonstressed individuals.

Here are some tips to avoid “stressing out” over shopping:

Set realistic expectations. It isn’t possible to make everyone happy, and it’s helpful to remember that it’s not the end of the world if you don’t.

Set a budget and stick to it. No gift is worth the debt it causes you to inherit. Maxing out a credit card can set you up for even more stress in the long run.

Exercise. Getting your heart pumping is a very effective way to manage stress. It can also help you maintain energy for some of those longer shopping trips.

Remember the reason for the season. Focus on family, not the gifts you think they’re expecting.

Beware of germ hot spots

Sometimes, just being cognizant of high-traffic areas can help you avoid germ hot spots. When you’re out shopping, ask yourself: Do a lot of people touch this? If the answer is yes, then ask: Do I need to?

Some stores provide disinfectant wipes, which can be beneficial. Just be aware that the chemical on the wipe needs to stay on the surface it is applied to for a certain amount of time in order to be effective – sometimes up to 10 minutes! If available, read the information and instructions on the container where the wipes are found.

Stop touching your face and wash your hands

Sometimes, avoiding germ-prone areas just isn’t realistic. For example, shopping can be difficult – maybe even impossible – without a cart. And not all stores have revolving doors – you’ll need to open those yourself. But it’s what we do after we touch those areas that really matters.

We’re human. We rub our eyes, scratch our noses and rest our chins in our palms. And we do it more than we probably realize. On average, people touch their faces more than three times an hour! This can result in spreading illness. That statistic alone should tell us there are many opportunities to cut back on how often we put our hands near our faces.

Speaking of hands, the best way to protect yourself from germs, is by washing them! Seriously – make handwashing a habit.

The holidays should be full of happiness – not stress and illness. With a little awareness and a few extra precautions, hopefully you can avoid picking up any chills, headaches and nausea along with all the gifts you plan to buy.

If you’re not so lucky though, give me a call at Methodist Physicians Clinic Risen Son – we’ll work together to get you feeling better as soon as possible.

About the Author

Dr. Brian Gartrell always knew he wanted to serve others. During the time he spent with physicians in his hometown of Columbus, Nebraska, it became increasingly clear to him that medicine was where he belonged. Board-certified in family medicine and otolaryngology, he has interests in several ENT-related issues such as hearing loss, nasal congestion and skin lesions.

Dr. Brian Gartrell is a family medicine doctor at Methodist Physicians Clinic.

See more articles from Brian Gartrell, MD
Photo of Brian Gartrell, MD