Christmas shopping and the fight or flight response

Helsinki, Finland; the place to go Christmas shopping. Look, the streets are almost empty! Courtesy: Sigketill

Helsinki, Finland; the place to go Christmas shopping. Look, the streets are almost empty!

Courtesy: Sigketill

Like many I love Christmas. I like giving presents and seeing the joy in loved ones' faces when receiving a thoughtful gift, but why oh why does Christmas shopping have to be such a nightmare.

Usually I wait until Christmas Eve. Doing that I am forced to get all my shopping done in one go, thus limiting the pain. This brings with it some problems as panic-buying can set in and what seemed the ideal gift at 8 pm Christmas Eve can seem a bit misjudged come the following morning.  

I have known well-meaning, intelligent and kind men to buy the ladies in their lives anti-wrinkle cream, a wheel barrow and a frying pan for Christmas.

Twas not the season of goodwill to all men in those households!

So this year I decided to reduce the risk and start early, or what I imagined was early. Off I went to the shops and realised to start early must mean sometime in June. It was chaos! As I wandered close to tears Schwarz's talk came back to me. He's right; there's too much stuff!

I went into a large department store and there was so much to chose from I couldn't have picked if my life depended on it. I was not alone either. Many people -- mostly men -- were wandering around aimlessly with a look of despair on their face. After 2 hours I had bought absolutely nothing and was seriously contemplating starting smoking again. I would have if I could have decided on which brand!

So this year I will once again find myself stood in a shop at 7.55 pm on Christmas Eve thinking "the vacuum cleaner or electric drill?"

The choice is obvious; it's much easier to dodge a vacuum cleaner when it's thrown at you.

The stress response caused by Christmas shopping may well explain the unusual behaviour of shoppers in the UK in this classic YouTube video. A thief having evaded numerous police officers was caught by shoppers. You can almost smell the adrenaline. Personally, I could have wrestled a shark after today!

So whether it's running from the shops empty handed, with stuff you shouldn't have, or apprehending criminals, Christmas shopping seems to bring out the "fight or flight" response in some of us.

This term was first coined by Dr Walter Bradford Canon, Professor of Physiology at Harvard Medical School, US, in 1915. He did pioneering work on how our body responds to stress. He also studied how emotions and their physical responses are experienced: the Canon-Bard Theory of emotion -- also explained here in cartoon form (beware: drawing of spider!). 

How our experience of emotions and responses to them work is actually less simple than you may think and has generated a number of theories, but that's for another blog as I've decided to get started on my Christmas shopping online. 

Now the vacuum cleaner or the electric drill?