Thursday, December 13, 2007
Kill them with kindness this Christmas season

By Anthony Policastro, M.D

There are some messages that I like to repeat every year. One of them is to think about Christmas giving a little differently than we usually do. Therefore, I will once again repeat that message. You may have heard about killing someone with kindness. This does not often occur. As a matter of fact we do not use kindness enough. Christmas is a time of peace and good will. It is also a time for kindness. It is a time to bring joy to others. The power of giving to someone is tremendous. We have all seen a child's eyes light up when they open a present. That same kind of joy is something we experience when we see it happen. Good feelings like those are great stress relievers. They also improve our overall mental health. I would like to examine some of the things we can do for others at this time of year. It will do them and us a world of good. There are some things that we all do out of habit. We send Christmas cards to friends. We give Christmas gifts to family. We wish Merry Christmas to acquaintances. These are all upbeat things to do. However, I would like to offer some other ways of bringing a smile to people at Christmas. Some of these things are known as random acts of kindness. Christmas is a great time for doing them. Many of us will be spending time on the road. That means things like traffic jams and toll booths. It offers us a perfect opportunity. Being courteous to other drivers at a merge point is a neat thing to do. Letting someone move in line ahead of you will cost only seconds. However, courtesy is indeed contagious. They may do the same for the next guy. Another inexpensive act is to pay the toll for the car behind you at the toll booth. You can tell the toll taker to wish them a Merry Christmas for you. Figuring out how to do this when you have EZ-Pass presents more of a challenge. Perhaps going out of your way to not use the EZ-Pass is just that something extra that would be giving above and beyond. When we send out cards, we have a yearly list. That list usually includes people we know and like. There are always some individuals that we really do not like. We would never think about sending a card. Maybe this is the year to send them one. As a matter of fact, you might want to think about sending a card to someone that you definitely do not want to wish well. It is not a time to give good will only to people we like. It is a time for us to spread that good will to everyone. There are certain people who expect gifts from us. They will be disappointed if they do not get one. However, there are many people who do things for us all year round and we can often take them for granted. This is where gift giving can be very uplifting. The idea is to remember them. It is to thank them for what they have done. We sometimes do this so that we look like a nice guy when we do so. I suggest that you give the gift anonymously. You can add a thank you note, but remember that the important thing is to lift the individual's spirits. You can do that with an appropriate gift and note. You really do not need thanks in return. As a matter of fact your thanks will often be the excitement of the recipient trying to find out who gave the gift. Many organizations collect things for distribution to people at Christmas time. We often think that contributing items for distribution is sufficient. However, someone has to assist with that distribution. Our time is valuable. It is usually more valuable than the items we donate. Giving of our time to help in the distribution is an important addition. This may be the year to do that. Giving time to others is important. Giving time to our families is more important. We do not do it enough. A Christmas present for the children gets opened quickly. Frequently the rest of the family goes about their business. Try taking some time with your children to play with the toys you bought them. One of the things I frequently prescribe for my adolescent patients is playing games. Conversations with adolescents are often arguments. When you play games, you tend to talk to each other about non-controversial things. You also tend to spend more time together than usual. My prescription for the family at Christmas is to play one hour of games together a day.

In a similar vein, Christmas dinner seldom lasts longer than a usual dinner. It just tends to have a better choice of food. I come from an Italian family. Our holiday dinners started at 3 p.m. with antipasto. This was followed by the pasta and trimmings. We then had the main course and side dishes. That was followed by dessert and finally fruit and nuts. We usually left the table for good after 8 p.m. What was really important was not the amount we ate. It was the amount of time we spent together as a family doing it. Statistics suggest that spouses spend less than an hour in real conversation a week. The same is true of parents and children. The rest of the time is spent on quick comments, not real conversation. There are a lot of opportunities for us to improve the mental health of those around us at Christmas. In turn our own mental health will be improved. The aim is not to kill everyone with kindness. It is to show them all that kindness is healthy. Christmas is the ideal time to spread that kindness.

Depression support group in Laurel
The Mental health Association in Delaware will be sponsoring a Depression Support Group in Laurel on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month. The meetings begin at 7 p.m. The MHA encourages anyone dealing with a depressive disorder to attend. Register in advance by calling 1-800-287-6423.
  • Peer support groups sponsored by Mental Health Association of Delaware are not intended to replace professional mental health treatment. MHA does not publish support group locations; locations are provided with registration.

  • Alzheimer's holds training
    The Alzheimer's Association Delaware Valley Chapter is sponsoring a training program for family caregivers at LifeCare at Lofland Park in Seaford on Friday, Jan. 18 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The program includes a medical overview; legal and financial issues; challenging symptoms, daily care issues; and information on getting the help you need. The session is free and lunch will be provided, but pre-registration is required by Jan. 11. For more information or to register, call Jamie Magee, branch office coordinator, at 854-9788.

    Stroke support group
    Nanticoke Memorial Hospital will offer free monthly Stroke Support Group meetings designed for individuals who have survived a stroke and their families and caregivers. Meetings are held the third Thursday of each month at Nanticoke Cancer Care Center, from 1:30 - 3:30 p.m. The meetings will consist of guest speakers and breakaway sessions, in which caregivers and survivors will meet in two groups to discuss concerns, provide support and networking. Refreshments will be provided. Sheila Brant and Joan Burditt, occupational therapists at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, will facilitate the support group meetings. Pre-registration is not required. For more information, call 629-6611, ext. 5121.