With the holiday season finally here, many of us have to deal with added stress. With presents to figure out and buy, crowded stores full of shoppers, social events to attend, traffic day and night, and bitter cold weather to battle, the end of the year can be a very hectic time. Add to these tasks all the regular, everyday responsibilities we face, and the stress can become too much to bear. That might mean a hot shower and a relaxing night at home for most of you, but for those like me, stress has a much more ugly result.

Stress can have an actual, physical result in those who suffer from Rheumatoid Arthritis and other autoimmune diseases, and can worsen the disease significantly when things get hectic. Since the Holiday season is ground zero for chaos, a mad rush to get everything done before the twenty-fifth of December can mean real pain. When you have to deal with fatigue, aching joints, and nightly fevers, the whole “Christmas shopping” experience isn’t the joy that TV commercials portray it as.

Because I know many of you who read my columns suffer the same way I do, I will share a few of the tips I have learned over the years that have made it easier for me to come through the Holidays with shining colors. At heart, I’m a giver, so I always find ways to make sure the people I love and care about get the gifts they want, even if it means braving the shopping mall.

First and foremost, you have to start early. The best way to do this is by paying attention. To what, you ask? Well, make sure to take note any time that someone you are with says something like “oh this is great, I really want to get one of these!” That way, when you have time alone, you can go back and grab whatever the object is. Even if you have to wait four or five months to give the present, you have just saved yourself a trip to the stores during the hectic Christmas season.

Another thing I’ve found that can ease the burden of holiday shopping is something that may seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many people just plain forget to do it. As many of the younger generation know, you can find just about anything you need on the Internet these days. That’s right – buy online! Nothing saves wear and tear on joints more than sitting in your recliner waiting for the FedEx man to show up. Even items you wouldn’t normally think to shop online for such as food, clothes, shoes, and car parts, you can find online. If the worst happens and you cannot find what you are looking for on a retail website, then check eBay! Someone is bound to be getting rid of whatever it is you need, and it will probably end up being cheaper than it would at a brick and mortar shop.

If you must get in the car and brave the shopping malls during the Holidays, there are a few things that make that horrible task just a bit less harrowing. Standing in lines and walking miles through store hallways is murder on the feet for a healthy person, so taking every precaution and opportunity to make life easier is imperative for those of us who are physically handicapped.

One of the most helpful hints I can provide for those long shopping trips comes from our friends over at the Boy Scouts – be prepared! Just because the store you are going to claims over the phone that they are “not too busy,” doesn’t mean they are telling you the truth. Even if you plan to only be out for an hour or two, make sure you bring all the medication you would need for an entire day’s trip. Pain medicine is especially important. I carry around a small aspirin bottle with my narcotics, my steroids, and Advil or Tylenol at all times, even if I am running out for only a few minutes. You never know what may happen at the store, or you simply may want to make another stop or two. This becomes infinitely more painful when you don’t have the proper pills to stop joints from aching. In addition, always make sure to have a small bottle of water available. Pills can’t do much good if you can’t swallow them. Sure, you can eat them without liquid, but I have had medicine stuck in my throat too many times after doing just that to ever do it again willingly. A swallow of water after the pills go down ensures I won’t have to rush to find a bottle of water to chug when my esophagus is on fire.

For those times when you cannot avoid waiting in a long line, or there is a wait while a store clerk prepares your order, don’t be afraid to ask for a chair or place to sit. Granted, most low-level clerks will not be able to help you, but don’t hesitate to speak to a store manager. Let them know that you are physically disabled and you are not capable of standing on your feet for a prolonged period of time. Some stores will allow you to jump to the front of the line, but the majority of stores will simply provide you a place to sit while you wait for your turn. A register jockey may not realize it, but any person who has made it to the managerial level of his or her organization knows that the fastest way to get fired is to mistreat someone who is handicapped.

The final tip I can give you is something you may have considered but dismissed because of the connotations associated with its use. There is no shame is obtaining a handicapped parking placard from the state or county you live in. Yes, I know that it might mean you are “truly handicapped,” and I know that some feel that it is taking advantage if they can still walk, but the fact of the matter is that the placard is there to assist you, and that’s all. It doesn’t mean anything else, and it doesn’t make you any more handicapped than you already are. It simply saves wear and tear on the body, and people like us need to protect our bodies as much as we can. Best of all, it is easy to obtain. Head to your county’s department of social services office or website to apply for one.

So, as you can see, there are many ways to lessen the impact holiday shopping has on your body. Yes, many of these tips seem like common sense, but I cannot count the number of times I have seen people forget about them or purposefully ignore them. Take every opportunity you can to make your life easier, if not for yourself, then for the recipients of your gifts who will truly enjoy that video game they really wanted unlike that pair of dollar-store socks you gave them last year.