Take the stress out of proven festivities!

Does your stomach clench when you think about the holidays? Stressed? Are you worried about getting into arguments, not meeting the expectations of others, not choosing the right gifts? The American Psychological Association says that anxiety increases during the holidays. Although vacations should be a fun time, they bring a lot of stress and sometimes put us off, weakening our relationships.

I wonder why this season brings stress and headaches instead of a glow of excitement?

Think about how most of us prepare. We spend extra energy and money on gifts and meals, argue about misunderstandings, and package “fun” events every minute, every day, every night. No wonder it’s not fun anymore!

Take a look inside the word “vacation”. It means “holy day”, but holy days should be aimed at building stronger relationships, sharing and loving. Many times, they end up being a hassle.

All those flashy ads – the best gifts, the best prices, the best deals. It’s about body and mind, not the soul-to-soul connections we need most now. “The hype and commercialism of the season lead to further stress,” says a recent psychological report. The holy days should consist of strengthening relationships, sharing and loving.

Sure, there are problems: the cousin who welcomes everyone, then fumes because no one invites her to come back. Friends who share nasty gossip. The relative who drinks too much and fights, leaving everyone wondering if they should bother coming next year.

Why bother?

If this is how you feel, just adjust your own perspective. Make this season different so you can finally enjoy and even have fun! Enjoy it again as a child, with all the blessings of family and love.

Make the vacation a time of soul-to-soul connection. Meet others with no expectations (“I picked him a great gift and all he got me was this cheesy gift card!”) And the holidays will exceed your dreams. Open your heart and exchange the gifts of love, sharing, and caring with these nine simple tips to renew your Christmas spirit today.

1. Find out who needs help. If you are comfortable and well fed, visit the elderly, visit hospitals, or give socks to the homeless. Don’t forget your cousin in the military, or the neighbor down the street who lost his wife last year!

2. Reconnect with friends. Think of someone you haven’t seen in a while and have tea together. If you live too far, look them up on Skype and say hi.

3. Avoid hot topics. Try not to bring up sensitive topics … keep it light and fun.

4. Remember the children. Many organizations organize Santa Claus tours, plays or concerts to make Christmas at the hospital a happier time for children.

5. Plan an excursion. Buy treats that your own children can give away at a nursing home or for adults with disabilities. Tell them that people who seem different deserve a wonderful vacation, too.

6. Discover your own style. Just because your sister-in-law hosts a fancy New Years brunch buffet doesn’t mean it’s her thing. Don’t IMITATE what works for others! Instead, your style may be a shared lunch. Make it yours!

7. Take care of yourself and relax. Your body won’t thank you for the rich and indulgent party food. Too rushed to cook and eat properly? Find simple foods to prepare easily and truly nourish your spirit. Go for a walk, practice yoga if you feel like it. Sit quietly and relax, without distractions: put away your phone, mp3 player, remote control, notepad …

8. Make that call. There is one person you think you cannot call. Maybe you lost contact because her husband was sick. Maybe he is fighting with a friend of yours and you did not want to take sides. Fix those fences and you too will heal.

9. Do your best, then let it go. Despite your best intentions, life will throw you a curve ball. Unexpected health surprise? Cash crisis? Don’t let them undermine all the work you’ve done. Take a deep breath, refocus, and keep trying.

Finally, a few words about forgiveness. Hearts are soft this time of year; we are ready, willing and able to forgive. First, forgive yourself and put your grudges aside. Ask others for forgiveness. What an amazing gift: “I think I hurt your feelings, I’m sorry.” Only a grinch would say no to the opportunity to reconnect on a soul-to-soul level.

Always thank God for the blessings before you, release your burdens and offer the world the gift of your renewed spirit, with love, laughter and lightness to last until 2014 and beyond. Let us pray together for this coming holiday season:

Let’s go beyond ourselves.

Let’s bring light to the world

Being light in the world.

Let us serve others with joy

Let’s reach out with joy

Surrender expectations

And I feel alone in wonder

Surround ourselves with love

Spreading love in the world

Changing only ourselves

We can change the world.

“Love and light for all”