“He is never late, His timing is always perfect”

May 9, 2011

Makes God sound a bit like Gandalf:

A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.

The title is a direct quote from a press release and has little to do with what follows. All bold is in the original.

God will test us to see how much we are trusting in Him to do what He said He will do for us that is recorded in the Bible. Are you passing the test?

James 1:3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

James 1:12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

2 Corinthians 2:9 Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything.

Trust that he’ll turn up eventually, is the point, I guess. Like Waiting for Godot.

This is the lead up to the promotion of a couple books by Michael Anthony Gagliardi, called A Divine Connection With A Message From God Volume I & II. Hardly gripping titles, but once you start reading them, don’t you dare quit. “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial…” after all.

The author connects the widespread job losses, home foreclosures, and financial struggles characteristic of our times with maladies such as anxiety, depression, worry, sickness and even thoughts of suicide, affecting both Christians and non-Christians alike.

I’m not sure if this was supposed to startle people or not. We already know that job loss is depressing and stressful. We already know the threat of foreclosure is a cause of worry and anxiety. We know both of those have a bigger risk of happening if there is a health issue in play and that person has shitty access to affordable healthcare. And it’s quite likely many suicides occur on account of debt. I remember that feeling, that sense of hopelessness and fear about never getting out from under it. It was not a good feeling.

We’ve also designed a society that puts tremendous pressure on people in terms of performance and perfection. Never mind economic issues, just think about all the personal stress we’ll put ourselves under to conform, achieve, diet or change everything else about ourselves in order to fit someone else’s assumption of what we should want to be. What we think we have to live up to. Goals we think we should have. Status and recognition we think we deserve, with or without effort put in to earn it.

We have a tendency to not make things easy on ourselves. A lot of us are overscheduled. Sadly, a lot of parents have done the same bad turn to their kids, too. A lot of parents have made it worse by thinking that the only way kids can be happy is if they’re always given everything they want on top of it. Then there are the groups who are always on the look out for danger in the innocuous, stripping the fun out of things we know were fun as kids don’t dare to let kids do now.

Ever wonder why? I sure as hell do. From not letting kids try a toboggan at school to not letting them play sports in a park because they just might trip on a rock or something, it’s ludicrous is what it is. I’ll quote a bit from a Salon piece called The war on children’s playgrounds:

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued reams of playground regulations and actually gone so far as to recommend against “tripping hazards, like tree stumps and rocks.” Maybe we should just bulldoze the local parks and put in a couple of blobs — this time, made of plastic.

The idea, of course, is that playgrounds need constant overhauling because kids are hurting themselves unnecessarily. But that depends on your definition of “unnecessary.”

“Children rise to risk,” says Joan Almon, executive director of the U.S. Alliance for Childhood. “Give them some genuine risk and they quickly learn what their limits are, and then they expand their limits.” The problem is: If kids never encounter even tiny risks, they never develop that thing we call common sense.

They may never develop decent motor skills, either. I found an About piece that reports on a study done in 2010 by Ohio State University professor Jackie Goodway and her colleagues. Using a standardized locomotor test, they recorded the skill levels of 469 kids from urban, state-funded preschools meant to serve the “disadvantaged” youth. Disadvantaged is an understatement.

An astonishing 86 percent of the children in the study scored below the 30th percentile of children nationwide, which is considered developmentally delayed. It puts them at a greater risk for obesity, says Goodway. “These fundamental motor skills–running and catching and throwing and kicking–are the movement ABCs,” Goodway said in a press release issued by Ohio State. “If children don’t learn the ABCs, they can’t read. And if they don’t learn basic motor skills they won’t participate in sports or exercise.”

How many of those kids are going to get enough encouragement from parents, teachers and mentors to persevere and overcome that monstrous setback? It will take more than faith in Jesus, that’s for damn sure.

To finish on track with the original intent here, I quote the press release again:

for Christians who truly understand the power of redemption, it doesn’t have to be that way: “God’s people do not need to be in a constant worry, fear or a panic state of mind because the precious blood of Jesus shed on the cross at Calvary offers victory over every situation we face here on earth,” says Gagliardi, whose own home was in foreclosure while he wrote the book. “With Jesus Christ, complete victory is completely possible.”

And have proceeds from his books paid the debt on his house now? The press release doesn’t say. It takes more than faith in Jesus to pay off a house, too, obviously. I’ll bet a cookie Gagliardi worried a little about the possibility of losing it. Maybe prayer (and book sales) eased his worries but, truth be told, a little worry can be a good thing. It can prompt you to get off your ass and do something to fix the problem so you won’t have to worry about it anymore. You can’t aim to persevere at something if you never get around to starting in the first place.


Ever been skeptical of repressed memory? You weren’t wrong

September 8, 2010

It’s good to know people look into this stuff and want to challenge perceptions about how memory works and how memory can be manipulated.

In a briefing to the US Supreme Court, Professor Richard McNally from Harvard University described the theory of repressed memory as “the most pernicious bit of folklore ever to infect psychology and psychiatry”.

He maintains false memories can easily be created by inept therapists.

“The stress hormones that are released during a trauma tend to consolidate the memory, make it rather strong and sometimes even intrusive, as you see in post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said.

But Professor McNally says some abuse victims do suffer when they reassess childhood experiences much later.

“Seeing the event through the eyes of adult, they realise what has happened to them and now they experience the emotional turmoil of trauma,” he said.

The good news is that now, Professor McNally says most victims can be helped.

“Things have changed, happily. We now have treatments that work,” he said.

They’re trying cognitive behaviour therapy, apparently. Something I might benefit from, perhaps – something about learning how to break repetitive negative thoughts about ourselves or situations that may have nothing at all to do with us, yet wind up feeling like the opposite is happening.

Oh, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve assumed that…this week…

Ahaahahaa.. Yeah…

The first article mentions the need to help people develop resilience, something not everyone is good at doing. Some of the suggestions for just how to do this fall into sham guru woo territory (like affirmations, increasing spirituality), but other points are good ones, like understanding why we feel an emotion like sadness or stress, making sure we’re attributing it to the right cause as opposed to making up something else and thus making the feeling worse. Or the idea that we decide how we will react in situations. We control that, not some outside force. We can choose a better, (read: less psycho nut bitch from hell) reaction to life’s downs.

Exercise also gets a mention as a good way to make endorphins spin the mood wheel into the happy zone. I know I’ve been doing a lot of walking lately – 6 hours one day, an hour or more another day.. I thought I was doing that because I was frikkin bored, but maybe my need for getting active stems from a desire to not get caught in those stupid brain loops I often find myself in. If exercise keeps my brain from reverting back to Mope Mode, I’d best do more of it.

The brain is such a complex thing, isn’t it? And all we have are paltry words to describe it, and eyes to read the instruments that measure it, even though our eyes and vision are completely controlled by the very things we try to measure. How do we know we’re seeing what we’re “supposed” to be seeing…

I put a hold on “Crazy Like Us” just now

September 4, 2010

I heard an interview on the radio with the author this morning. I’d seen the book go by at work and thought it looked interesting. Hearing Ethan Watters talk about his book and what he was coming across while writing it, I knew it’d be right up my alley.

Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche takes readers into other cultures to see what effect the American thought process is having on their societies and their ways of thinking about stress, tragedy and mental illness.

He brought up the tsunami that ransacked Sri Lanka back in 2004 and the outpouring of aid from the States. It was useful in every way except in cases where therapists (including Scientologists – sound familiar?) went to “help” without having any lick of a clue about how that social structure was organized. It really shouldn’t be a big surprise, but it turns out there is a marked different in how each culture has evolved to deal with trauma.

The western way apparently is to internalize it, think in egotistical terms about chemical changes in the brain and needing time alone to deal with the post traumatic stress disorder, or talk about what happened a lot, and soon, too, in order to wash the fresh wound clean or what have you (and there is growing evidence this process has the opposite effect as is intended – people who do this often take longer to get over what happened).

For Sri Lankans, this is nearly opposite of the way they’re used to coping. When asked, they’ll say they feel disconnected from their social networks and that’s the glue that holds their villages together. Watter notes the fact that in many villages a family whose child was murdered might be living beside the family whose member did the killing. They’ve actually got strict rules within these villages, I guess, regarding how these people talk to each other and one of the ways they can’t is by directly mentioning what happened. They can talk around it, circumspect it, but aren’t supposed to get into any conversation that might start a cycle of revenge — which is their worst fear, frankly. That’s what rips families and societies apart. Bring in the western therapists who believe the only healing is with direct truth telling at all times, and what happens? Nothing good.

He also brought up the growing problem of anorexia in Hong Kong. Prior to 1994 or so, there were very few girls who’d been diagnosed with it anywhere in China, and none of them had the same “symptoms” as westerns girls do in terms of fat phobia or distorted body image where they really think they look fat when they are quite skeletal. It was only after a 14 year old girl died suddenly in the street that anorexia became news there.

Making it newsworthy is what may have gotten the ball rolling. Eastern reporters looked to the west for clues on how to alert their audience to this disease and what the west was doing to treat its symptoms. But by naming the disease and stating the list of things to watch for, people started watching for them. I’m going to quote Mind of Modernity who is quoting from the book:

Watters turns to medical historian Edward Shorter to explain why a cultural awareness of a new disease model actually shapes the experience of individual sufferers:

People at a given moment in history in need of expressing their psychological suffering have a limited number of symptoms to choose from – a “symptom pool” as he calls it. When someone unconsciously latches onto a behavior in the symptom pool, he or she is doing so for a very specific reason: the person is taking troubling emotions and internal conflicts that are often indistinct or frustratingly beyond expression and distilling them into a symptom or behavior that is a culturally recognized signal of suffering.

The trouble with this, of course, is that every culture tends to pool symptoms differently. Like the Sri Lanka thing where community disconnection is a far bigger symptom of a problem. It’s hardly considered a symptom in the States because it seems like everyone’s living the life of a disconnected independent individual already and maybe nobody really questions the mental impact of so many of us living with so few ties to the community we’re living in this year.

For the young people of Hong Kong, with all the increased western cultural crap coming their way, is it any wonder they’re getting stressed out enough to start developing western mental illnesses on top of that?

This “stress from rapid social changes” fits Liah Greenfeld’s definition of anomie. As Hong Kong experienced these modern changes, traditional sources of identity were weakening, resulting in a condition of cultural insufficiency. Greenfeld’s work on mental illness suggests that problems with identity formation are caused by this chronic condition of cultural insufficiency, (anomie), which characterizes modern culture.

Yeah, so this’ll be a fascinating read. Hopefully I don’t have to wait too long to get it.

Also on the topic of books – I’ll finish the one I’m reading today hopefully and then write up a thing about it. I also have a book here that winds up related to this Crazy Like Us one, Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker, which is all about the rise of mental illness – or at least the rise of calling things mental illnesses in order to sell people drugs. Watter said something like one in four teens have a mental illness. How the hell could that be true? What if it’s just the fact that these definitions and “symptom pools” for mental illness wind up so fucking broad that every little quirk of personality could fit five drug “treatable” problems?

Weariness: “it’s when your soul is tired”

April 25, 2010

I’d like to see the scientific proof that backs that one up. Alas, none exists. That doesn’t stop columnist Leon Fontaine from claiming such a thing in order to shill his theories on the importance of letting God fix it, though.

weariness isn’t a condition of the body. It’s when your soul is tired.

Weary people have an empty depthless look in their eyes and a discouragement with life that penetrates to their very core. Their condition doesn’t come from over-expending energy or having a stimulating life. It comes from faulty beliefs.

More likely it comes from a chemical imbalance in the brain, or simply from the sudden realization that the wants far surpass the capacity to get.

Weariness sets in when you believe your life will never get any better, that your marriage is doomed, or that you’ll always be destitute.

Some people have very high expectations that can’t be met, no matter who they marry or how much money they have. Other people make really really bad choices when it comes to that kind of thing. Maybe what they need is marriage counseling, or better skill at budgeting. And I suspect most people would be far more satisfied with less if they could get over the feeling that more has to be had all the damn time.

I’d gotten a student loan for university. The folks helped a bit and what I made over the summers would have helped more too if I’d spent the money on classes instead of a stereo, or whatever. After grad, it took nine years to get out from under it. It would have been sooner had I been smarter with the money I was making with my two jobs but so it is with a lot of things.

Wal-Mart mentally and physically drained me. I was weary. I went through years worth of weary. While I’d never state that I believe souls even exist, after a while it felt like a little part of me died every night I had to spend cleaning up after people in the fashion departments. It became my hell on earth. Why didn’t I quit? Because my student loan needed paying off, and after that was done I was still broke. Could I have gotten a different job? Maybe, but then I would have had to give up all my hours at the library, too, and that was my favourite part of making money (piddly sum that it was).

I was very fortunate that I managed to get hired by the library shortly after I started at Wal-Mart because it’s the library that saved my sanity. At first, I only had eleven hours of work a week there, but I was able to apply for more as other people moved around or left and got up to 27, including Saturdays and Sundays. Joy of joys. I got to a point with Wal-Mart where every part of me hated the walk from the bus stop to that building. It would sour my whole day knowing I had a shift there that night, and I felt no remorse skipping any of them. None whatsoever. I was WEARY.

The best way to overcome weariness is to share your burden with God and have faith that He will meet your needs and help you achieve an amazing life.

The best way to overcome weariness is to jump at the opportunity to change something – change anything. A full time term opened up in a different department at the library; I took a chance applying for it and got it. That was a happy day. It was an even happier day when I got to give my resignation letter to Wal-Mart and walked away from it for good.

If you can’t change your job, maybe change what you do with the rest of your time. Find some fun. Find something you like that gives you that boost of “happy to be here.” Yeah, I suppose taking the god route is the way some people can get that feeling, but we don’t all have to do it that way. I never bothered. I was happy to be at the library. It didn’t matter how many books were out of place, or on tables, or chopped up for someone’s art project. It didn’t matter if dead birds got shoved through the book deposit drop, or condoms were found in place of bookmarks. I was happy there. I am happy to be there. It doesn’t even matter how much work is still sitting undone over there, I like being there.

People need to like being wherever they are. If that place is church, fine. If it’s a park, or a zoo, or helping the elderly, or shopping (assuming they can afford it), fine. Bottom line, you need to like being where you are. If you don’t, then what on earth are you doing there?

Accept God’s grace and power in your life. Once you accept Jesus into your heart, you can receive the grace and power of God.

This is not a necessary step for everyone. People in need of money do not need to join a club where they’ll be encouraged to give what little they have away. People who need friends don’t need people who will befriend them only because there’s some heavenly reward for reaching out. People lacking direction should be wary of people with ulterior motives who claim they can help with that, “if” or “but…”. Religion is not always going to be the answer to problems, no matter how sincere the propaganda may seem.

Don’t allow guilt to wear you down. Weariness is often a result of constant guilt.

There are two ways guilt can get to us; when we say no yet feel like we should say yes, and when we’ve said yes but know we should have said no. Freedom from guilt is knowing the difference and following through. Quit agreeing to do more than you can handle. On the flip side, don’t be too selfish. Cooperation and compromise have to keep in some kind of balance. Not just because it’s fair, but because it ought to. We ought to have to give up some things to make room for other people in our lives but we should never give our lives over to other people completely and it is beyond unkind for people to expect it.

You have the power to overcome weariness. To turn off weariness, you need to believe that God will give you the strength.

You don’t need to believe some god can strengthen you before you do anything different. I didn’t need it. I didn’t have to turn to some religion in order to get a better chance at a good and happy life. I took a chance on a different kind of change and it worked out great. Yeah, okay, I’m not married, I don’t have kids, I’m without a lot of the stresses a lot of other people have regarding loans and mortgages and whatever. But really, a change doesn’t have to be a big thing yet it can still make a big difference in how much joy you feel when you get up in the morning, and how much joy you give others.

Changing one little thing can help a lot but you are the one who has to decide what needs changing and when that change needs to be done. Don’t think for a second that you have to follow Leon Fontaine’s advice. Don’t think for a second that I can claim my way is better. All I can claim is it worked better for me, and might do the same for you.

But you are the one who has to decide. Nobody can do that for you.

Children are better off today.. well, kind of.

January 3, 2010

I don’t have kids. I don’t even know if I want kids. I think if I did have kids, I’d consider raising them like in The Village, away from the hustle and bustle and crazy tech crap and money woes and gangs and drugs. Hopefully I wouldn’t have to invent monsters and a superstition around the colour red to keep them in line, mind you. A little bit of lusting for the simpler times, is what I’m getting at.

Anyway, saw this article at WORLDmag recently, where Anthony Bradley claims it’s a much better world for children today than any other time in history. He goes all the way back to Greeks and Romans to illustrate how unimportant kids used to be but it’s not even necessary to look that far back. Considering child labour practices of the past (and even in other countries today), sure, Western kids have got it pretty good. He writes,

In a Western culture like ours that worships children and idolizes youth, the low social status of children in antiquity seems foreign.

What I bold there is a problem that needs dealing with. Kids should not be worshiped. Kids should be kids who know their parents will be making their decisions for them — to a point. For example, kids have way too much purchasing power now and parents who had to do without seem loathe to let their kids feel the same angst. But kids who get everything they want in life are going to have a hard time when they’re on their own. Whether in university or working for a living, when they discover they have no idea how to deal with problems because their helicopter parents take care of everything for them, how will they ever mature into independent people?

Also, a lot of kids are on pills for depression and other mental issues. Why in the hell should any kids be depressed if they’re living in the best time kids have ever had? Some statistics:

One in five children have a diagnosable mental, emotional or behavioral disorder. And up to one in 10 may suffer from a serious emotional disturbance. Seventy percent of children, however, do not receive mental health services (SGRMH, 1999). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of the most common mental disorders in children, affecting 3 to 5 percent of school-age children (NIMH, 1999). As many as one in every 33 children and one in eight adolescents may have depression (CMHS, 1998). Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds and the sixth leading cause of death for 5- to 14-year-olds. The number of attempted suicides is even higher (AACAP, 1997).

I doubt numbers have gotten lower over the past decade. And even living with a bummed out mom increases the risk of depression in teens (her own or adopted), too.

A growing number of studies demonstrate difficulties that depressed mothers have in interacting with their children, remarks psychiatrist John Markowitz of Columbia University. Tully’s study “bolsters the evidence that maternal, more than paternal, depression meaningfully affects children through home life, not just heritability,” he says.

And if you look at the indicators of teen depression, small wonder it often goes undiagnosed:

* Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
* Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
* Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
* Irritability, restlessness (What teen isn’t?)
* Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
* Fatigue and decreased energy
* Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions (isn’t that nearly the definition of a teenager?)
* Insomnia, early–morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping (yeesh)
* Overeating, or appetite loss (talk about opposites)
* Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment

Now, let’s bring technology into this. I quote from a study done on American employees and stress levels.

The Occupation Safety and Health Administration has declared stress a hazard of the workplace. And it is no wonder that workers feel overwhelmed and overworked; the average American office worker sends or receives about 201 messages a day in the form of e-mails, voice mails, faxes, and memos (Eisinger, 2001).

Today, how many does the average kid get, I wonder? Last April it was reported that a teenage girl racked up a $4800 cell phone bill on text messages alone. Ten thousand text messages sent and around the same number received. Never mind the fact they didn’t have a texting plan with Verizon, that’s still more than 300 in a day and, according to the article, mostly within school hours. That’s insane. No wonder her grades fell into the toilet.

The pressure to be constantly connected and informed must be intense. I’m from a generation where internet and cell phones and that kind of stuff weren’t vital to popularity and teen survival. I just had to make sure I was begging for the right music to stay in step with my peers. I never was one for telephone talking day and night, either, and a summer away from school friends was never filled with sturm und drang, it was the norm.

I think kids are better off in terms of health, education and welfare, but better off mentally? I think not.

Boasting a little pre-success

November 6, 2009

The province is gearing up for a whole new library system. The new format for the library catalogue comes online at the start of December in some parts of Saskatchewan (new library cards will be necessary) but cataloguers and aquisitions and my part of the job (processing/materials linking) are getting something of a head start now.

Ideally, we’ll have templates set up for many of the things we’d be doing every day, but even if not, I have at least found a workable solution to a little problem I was going to face.

With our old setup, I could link multiple copies of a book to the catalogue record quite quickly. A few item specific tweaks may have been necessary for the first copy (price, volume, requestable or not) but after the first item, all I had to do was zap a barcode and key in what library would own it, then zap and key and zap and key until I’d done all forty copies in less than five minutes. Easy peasy.

Prior to today, it was looking like I’d have to tweak an item in every necessary way, add the call number, zap the barcode and save that record before starting from scratch with the next. Time consuming is the politest way to describe that nonsense. But, I found what might be an easier shortcut where I can choose a field and copy/paste the info down from item #1 to #45 and then switch fields and do the same routine. Not ideal, but certainly better than the horrible chore I was anticipating.

Obviously Millennium is designed for a radically different workflow than what our library does. It appears to be set up so the catalogue work (including the location info and barcode linking) could be accomplished before any labels are printed for those materials. Linking is the last step we do here before we send the stuff out.

The “automatic label” making seemed like a great idea when we first heard we’d be switching, but now it looks like I’ll have to do them all with Word like before anyway. Millennium is not designed to print 50 spine labels on an Avery sheet like we do. It’s built for universities and other setups that use the Library of Congress call numbering system instead of the Dewey, and will also print labels to stick on cards/pockets like back in the day when people physically stamped books when lending them out. How many libraries still do that? Seems like such an archaic thing now.

But enough job related stuff. I’m just glad I sorted out a minor worry. Let the big job worries sit on someone else’s shoulders. Like the fact that since we’re ready to catalogue before the patron side of this is online, the cataloguers will have to do their work twice, as will Aquisitions – once in the old system (so patrons can still see what’s new and put holds on it all) and once in Millenium (because they can’t search for stuff in there yet). As of yet, I don’t know if I’ll even start linking any of the stuff ready to go out. I don’t really want to wait a month to start shuffling this stuff out of here, but whatever. We have enough work waiting on carts and boxes without a bunch of last-step stuff waiting around, too. Will see later how that works out, I guess.

Does purchase power leave you feeling powerless?

December 17, 2008

I heard on the radio yesterday that Saskatoon is clamping down on unpaid parking tickets. I’ll brag a bit here and say I’ve never gotten one, but some chick at the radio station was getting teased by the DJ dudes because cops were going to boot her car at the mall because she owed around $600. They gave her an hour to get downtown and pay her fine. But, she found out the city wouldn’t take credit or a cheque. The radio guys got to grumbling stuff like, why do this before Christmas? Why not wait until January?

Well boys, if she didn’t have $600 cash in the bank now, why would she have $600 after Christmas? She’d just been out buying gifts and groceries when they found her vehicle, as it happens, and if she’s like an average shopper, she’s probably already over budget. Better advice would be to not to get tickets at all, right? or pay them as soon as you do.

Anyway, a quick Google found me the average expense for American gift buyers last Christmas – $835 – and Canada is probably not that far off, but I can’t seem to find numbers right now. Interesting comparison here – in 2001, Americans spent an average of $462 based on a survey of 5000 households.

A recent poll done by gasbuddy.com found that 52% of people that knew their website existed and felt like answering their poll admitted gas prices did not affect their Christmas spending this year. I liked paying 77.9 cents a litre for my gas yesterday. Saskatchewan prices were around $1.30 at one point, I think. I don’t remember anymore. It must have been so bad I blocked it out. Gasticker.com keeps a good list of prices around the country though. Damn! I missed the 69.9 day, but I didn’t need the gas then. Ah well.

The National Post has an article today about things to do to fight depression during the holidays (and year round, really). They interviewed Michael Lerner, a Rabbi and Chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, who

believes the rampant consumption has undermined the true spirit of the holidays and is at the core of holiday sadness.

“For years I’ve run holiday stress groups, and I’ve heard first-hand about the depression and despair with people when they set a standard of consumption beyond their means and deepen their personal debts. Their only connection to the holidays is purchasing and they’ve come to believe the quantity and quality of gifts they receive reflects how much they are loved. But there are better ways to show love besides giving things,” Rabbi Lerner said.

By and large, I agree with him. This concept that material goods can somehow fill the gap once filled with family connections is a flawed one. Advertising campaigns like Scotiabank’s “You’re richer than you think” lead people into a monetary trap that more spending cannot buy them out of. That’s the biggest irony. I knew a girl in university who was in the habit of paying one credit card off with the other, literally passing the digital buck back and forth. She’d withdraw money out of one credit account to pay the other one. Nevermind the instant interest rates there… I have cousins who wind up in a job that pays fairly decent and the first thing they do is buy a new vehicle, buy a big screen TV. And then when layoffs happen or they just change their minds about working, it’s not long before the credit hounds are howling and a rep from the local repo depot comes calling.

Reverend Billy Talen has a simple solution for our holiday debt — stop shopping altogether. The New York performance artist founded the Church of Stop Shopping to address our addiction to consumption. Talen and his gospel choir head to the shopping malls to remind people there is no need to over-consume.

“Slowing down your consumption can be a spiritual act. You have to stop shopping long enough to think about what you are buying. And certainly when you ask, ‘What would Jesus buy?’ there’s no evidence that he bought anything, but we think he would buy less and give more. Spending time — that’s the gift that keeps on giving,” Talen says.

Time — that’s what people need to manage better. Steve Salerno had an interesting take on this recently, in terms of women and their over-scheduled lives. We – as in people in general, not just women – choose how we’ll spend our time. Many of us have made the choice to work longer hours or put our kids into more extra curricular activities or gotten another job to make ends meet in a house too big for two people. There’s a driving urge to have more, do more, be more, pursue more and what gets left behind during the rush to achieve it all before you keel over from exhaustion? Sanity and sense, frankly.

There is a lot of pressure to create the picture-perfect holiday. But family tensions and conflicts don’t disappear just because it’s the holidays. In fact, misunderstandings and conflicts tend to intensify when families are spending so much time together.

Experts at the Mayo Clinic suggest adopting a more realistic approach. Lower your expectations — your dysfunctional family is not going to suddenly become the poster family for Hallmark. Instead, accept family members as they are and leave the airing of grievances for another time. This means avoiding the temptation to drink too much.

Alexandra Keay at the CMHA national office recommends sitting down with family members to make a list of holiday activities.

It’ll be a peaceful Christmas morning at my house this year – we’re not hosting. Mom and I just have one salad to assemble before supper at my aunt’s. No frazzled turkey arguments at 7:30 in the morning this year. No need to argue over how many potatoes. No annoyance at rearranging the basement tables fifty times between breakfast and suppertime in order to get things “just right” for everyone. “No fuss, no muss, no rough stuff.”

Over the holidays, people tend to abandon their workout routines. But exercise is actually the perfect antidote for the high demands of the season. Not only does it help stop weight gain, it helps you burn off tension, maintain your stamina and fight off fatigue.

Don’t make a busy holiday schedule into an excuse to turn into a couch potato feeding on fruitcake. Mark Eys, an associate professor at Laurentian University’s School of Human Kinetics, suggests developing “a very practical plan of action. Book specific times to get to the gym or go for a run. Consider doing other fun activities such as a family skate, tobogganing with friends or after-dinner walks as alternatives to your normal schedule.”

That’s a good idea, too. Why wait until January first to reboot the workouts? New Year’s resolutions are notoriously hard to keep and any day is a good day to get some exercise. The trick is to do it again tomorrow and the week after. ShapeFit has a pile of beginner level exercises for people wondering where the hell to start. It has the added bonus of animated photos showing the how-to for each type of exercise so you can see how it’s supposed to be done. And, although the pictures show a gym with fancy weights, soup cans and water bottles can do the same job at home so there’s no real need to buy expensive equipment. And then you don’t have to worry about people looking at how out of shape you are, because I’m sure that’s at the back of your mind. Save a gym membership for when you’re more fit to enjoy it. Heh.