Shopping stress alters moods

By: Anita Doberman: Columnist

Before Christmas, I undergo a Jekyll/Hyde transformation, most noticeably when I buy presents. I call it my Christmas dichotomy. There is the happy Christmas self and my alter ego, the stressed out shopper.

When I am cheerful, nothing alters my mood. Putting up the Christmas tree and decorating it with my children is a highlight. Getting our ornaments is exciting. Never mind that as I am reaching for our Christmas box in the attic, everything is tumbling down because two of my children, 3 and 4, are forcefully shaking the ladder I am standing on and the box is slipping from my hands. Hanging on for dear life, I smile and tell them, “You sillies, don’t touch the ladder or Mommy could fall and get hurt.” On any other day, I would have yelled and sent them to their rooms.

I sing holiday music throughout the day, happily ignorant of my inability to carry a tune. Even the fact that everyone I know refuses to be a passenger in my van because of my lack of musical talent cannot disturb my holiday mood, and pure happiness envelopes my home.

The inevitable transformation takes place after I venture out to buy presents. By my third pass around the parking lot, desperately looking for a spot and rapidly eating up the only two hours I have without my kids, I have become my alter ego — the stressed out shopper.

Next comes a hunt for what I’m sure will be the last functional shopping cart within miles. By the time I step into the store, whatever fuzzy feeling of warmth and kindness I had is completely gone, replaced by a sense of urgency, a compulsion to buy the presents I need and come out of the store without police escort.

Walking up and down the aisles, other stressed-out shoppers and I look at each other with suspicious eyes, sizing up the competition. Half the toys are already gone (bought by those people obnoxious enough to plan ahead), and the aisles become scenes of mayhem, with shoppers daring the competition to back down first.

I soon realize my baby-sitter is about to turn into a pumpkin and I’ve got to rush home … only to find a line 10 deep at the register. As I finally get to the front and with victory within my reach, I revert back to my happy Christmas self. I see that these gifts are not what makes Christmas special.

I’m suddenly aware of the store’s Christmas tunes, and Rudolph guides me through the fog of stress. I almost want to let other people go ahead of me on line. But I don’t; my transformation is not complete. It’s only when I get back to my car, turn on the radio and start singing at the top of my lungs that I am fully back to being cheerful.

Cheerful, that is, until I venture out on my next shopping trip.