Holidays raise risk for injury, stress

Welcome to the holiday season – the most dangerous time of the year.

Christmas and New Year’s celebrations are ahead, and with them come parties, overindulgence, traveling, shopping and gift-giving. But behind all the fun lurk simple dangers that could cause injury – or even cost a life.

“It’s human nature to be able to block out and ignore the bad things that can happen,” said John Wisner, a Catholic priest and a psychiatrist with KU Med in Kansas City, Kan. “It’s one of the reasons we take the risks that we do.”

Much of the stress people face during the holiday season comes from dealing with mandatory social functions and fighting crowds and traffic while shopping, mental health experts say.

“The people who survive it realize that they are doing it for someone else and to make them happy,” Wisner said.

Those who feel despondent or alienated may have the biggest emotional problems this time of year, Wisner said. Although suicides increase slightly during the holidays, those who commit suicide usually have complicated their problems with alcohol, Wisner said.

These days, there’s a new holiday stress factor: the threat of terrorism.

Get help, help yourself

Get help by talking to a friend, minister or psychologist, Wisner said. Fight loneliness by volunteering at a soup kitchen or wrapping presents at a store, he said.

“Learn to step outside yourself,” Wisner said. “Do something to touch other people. That is really a very simple thing to do.”

And don’t take everything so seriously, Wisner said.

“It doesn’t matter how the present is wrapped,” he said.

But holiday dangers can be physical as well as mental.

For example, taking risks with Christmas lights and trees is a bad idea, said Rich Barr, fire marshal with Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical. The Christmas joy they bring can quickly turn to Christmas terror because fire risks increase, he said.

“Use of a live tree is always a concern, but it doesn’t need to be as much of a concern if it is kept watered,” Barr said. “A dry tree is extremely volatile. Live Christmas tree fires are pretty devastating.”

Most artificial trees are flame-retardant. To be sure, however, look for an Underwriters Laboratory label attached to the tree.

Electric lights also should carry the UL label, Barr said. Do not try using extension cords outdoors that are marked for “indoors only.” Instead of running the risk of overloading extension cord connectors, use power strips, Barr said.

As for burning candles, don’t set them near curtains or other combustibles.

“Don’t leave them unattended, especially if you are leaving the house,” Barr said. “Extinguish them.”

On the road

Once you leave the house and hit the streets and highways, defensive driving should become a priority, experts say.

The motorist’s first line of defense is to fasten the seat belt and make sure children are properly restrained in their seats, said 2nd Lt. John Eichkorn of the Kansas Highway Patrol.

Once you’re out of the driveway, “be constantly watching for the other driver,” he said. “What people tend to do is look only a few feet beyond the front of their automobile. You need to be looking quite a ways on down the road.”

Situations still can arise during highway travel that are beyond your control. Making sure everything else is done properly will minimize the risk from factors out of your control, Eichkorn said.

“The best things you can do are drive the speed limit and use your turn signals,” he said.

Terrorism fears

Americans now face another holiday fear: violence.

Will terrorists strike Americans on Christmas? Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin, who serves on terrorism boards with national police organizations and has taught classes on terrorism, doesn’t rule it out.

Christmas would be the day to launch a terrorist attack “if you are looking for an emotional reaction,” Olin said. “They (terrorists) have targeted areas that were more economic in focus. On Christmas day, people are not going to be in the malls and they are not going to be at work. Whether they would attack on days around Christmas, I don’t know.”