Doom for the holidays Fear: The turkey turns on you, candy kills the dog, the tree torches the house. People get SAD, relatives get even. It could happen. Enter the true dreading of Christmas time.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

'Tis the season to be fearful, fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.

Awaiting yuletide casts a pallor, fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.

Find depression in the holly, fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la

The holiday season is here, threatening America with its annual nervous breakdown.

Gloominess mounts as winter solstice approaches and the days grow shorter, darker and colder.

We've barely survived frightful Halloween with its ghouls, goblins, Michael Myerses, crack in the candy bars, razor blades in the apples and stalkers in the driveway.

And already here we are with Thanksgiving. Undercooked turkeys threaten salmonella. The holiday table groans fearfully full of calories and cholesterol. Relatives who haven't seen each other since last Thanksgiving because they don't like each other much trade barbs across the cranberry sauce over slights and snubs they've been harboring since 1963.

On the horizon: Christmas, promising tidings of comfort and joy and holiday depression. We view Christmas past through Norman Rockwell glasses. We can never be as good and true as Mom and Dad, who were always there for us and never took off with the next-door neighbor or the girl on the bowling team.

The tree never burned the house down and our presents were always exactly what we wanted and everyone was pleased with what we gave them.

The toys didn't all have motors or elaborate electronic components and they didn't need $5 worth of batteries every 20 minutes. The dolls didn't look like bimbos ready to take off in the morning for Cancun with the second guitar player in a garage band.

And now we worry that even the mistletoe is poisonous.

We'll open the New Year with optimistic hopes, drunken driving and the announcement of the first traffic fatalities of 1997.

We'll all be older. Is my hair thinner? My pot bigger? My teeth looser? How's your prostate? Do I dare? Do I dare to eat a peach?

January. February.

Gray. Gray. Gray.

Gloom spreads. Seasonal advice floods in, not helping a bit.

Grandma may not know it, the Baylor Medicine College warns, but the medication in her purse may pose a serious holiday threat to children. An emergency room doctor says: "Accidental poisonings are the main holiday-related emergency we see."

Groan. Stay home, Grandma.

"Here's an ingredient your holiday feast can do without: bacteria."

We know. We know. Cook the turkey.

But not slowly at low temperatures like Grandma taught you. Fast, hot, in a bag, in a microwave: 325 to 350 degrees, 10 minutes a pound, to 160 degrees. On a thermometer!

Wash your hands with hot, soapy water. Wash the utensil, the cutting board, the counter, the sink, the kitchen. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is a worse nag than Mom.

Don't leave the turkey out on the table for folks to nibble at.

"Bacteria could multiply significantly," USDA warns.

Worry. Worry.

Stress mounts.

"Holiday planning can be stressful for stepfamilies," says a psychologist named James Bray. "Many stepchildren are still upset over their parents' divorce and have not adjusted to their new families."

Create new family traditions, Doc Bray suggests. They solidify families. Include all the children, young and old and new. Alternate holiday visits year to year.

Yes, Virginia, there may still be a Santa Claus, but he may have trouble finding you in your new solidified family.

Remember Rover

And don't forget to include the pets in the family holiday, says Pet-Link Roundtable. Don't let your pet overeat. Don't feed your dog sweets, your cat bones, your gerbil turkey lacing. Don't let them chew on the Christmas lights. Don't offer them a drink.

Remember to provide your cat or dog a quiet place if the hustle and bustle gets to be too much.

"Ask your dog or cat to lie in its crate or bed in a separate room," the Roundtable advises, assuming you're on good enough terms to talk about the holiday spirit with the little beasties.

The Hearth Products Association thinks it's great for families and their pets to gather 'round the fire during the holidays. But your wood smoke could pollute the whole neighborhood. Buy a fireplace that meets federal emission standards, for Christmas sakes. Buy an EPA-certified wood stove. Switch to gas.

Never buy an old, tired, thin, spindly, dry, brittle or easily ignitable Christmas tree. Get a nice, green, moist one, says Oklahoma State University. Which is also pretty good advice for choosing a Yuletide companion.

Keep the tree well-watered and away from "ignition sources." The National Safety Council reports winter is the leading time for fires in the homes.

Target practice

If it's a White Christmas, teach the children to throw only loosely packed snowballs. No rocks, sticks or hand grenades embedded in them.

"Tell the kids not to aim for the head or face when throwing snowballs," Child magazine's targeting experts suggest. "They should try to hit the torso, backs and legs."

Women maybe should not go outdoors at all in the winter. Fifty percent, Procter & Gamble says, report "winter skin dryness." Ugh.

If you absolutely have to leave the house to feed the stock on the north 40, P&G; says: "Shield yourself from wind Avoid licking your lips Eliminate sweat. "

And, of course, slather yourself with some Oil of Olay substance, which P&G; makes, when you get indoors again.

But who's kidding whom? There is no hope. The National Safety Council reports the air within our homes can be more polluted than the stuff outside.

The NSC lists a multitude of sources for indoor pollution: "heating, cooling, and humidification devices, deteriorating lead paint, radon, asbestos and the thousands of products found in the home and workplace."

Aromatherapy

Fear and trembling fill the air. The blues appear. The blahs accumulate. The sky is leaden. Snow is threatened. Perhaps it's time for aromatherapy.

"Look in the perfumes of flowers and of nature for peace of mind and joy in life," said the great eighth-century sniffer Wang Wei, according to Judy Josiah, who writes for the Tree of Life Institute.

Judy focuses on essential oils to "beat those holiday blahs."

"Smells," she says, "travel more rapidly to the brain than does other sensory information."

Japanese researchers have found that key punch operators make 21 percent fewer errors when the air is scented with lavender, 33 percent fewer with jasmine and 54 percent fewer under the influence of oil of lemon. If you've got a tight deadline, lemon sounds like the way to go.

But if you can only keep one essential oil, Judy suggests lavender. Lavender, she says, is "good for combating depression, anxiety, irritability and insomnia."

Her own favorite is the "sensual Ylang Ylang," which means "flower of flowers."

"It is considered the queen of perfumes," Judy says.

Ylang Ylang can even enhance your love life if diffused in the air during the holidays, she says. It's unclear what it does for key punch operators.

"Are you a bear in winter?" asks the National Institute of Mental Health.

Sluggish?

Sleep more?

Eat more?

Gain weight?

Down in the dumps?

"You may have Seasonal Affective Disorder," NIMH says.

That's SAD, and it's a real disorder.

Don't be SAD

SAD sufferers simply don't get enough light to stimulate brain chemistry they need to function normally during the winter. NIMH finds SAD calls soar with the end of DST.

If you call (301) 496-0500, you might be able to join a free research and treatment program.

Treatments range from bright light boxes to melatonin. Sometimes SAD causes "loss of libido." Which may be a job for Ylang Ylang.

Heather, a SAD sufferer for 26 years who has her own Web page, has a great idea: Take off for a warm sunny climate.

But for the plain old winter blues, the folks who may already be snowbound at the Colorado Mental Health Association suggest a simpler remedy: "Do something for someone."

Which, of course, has been the Christmas message for ages.

Pub Date: 11/27/96

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