Does your stomach get tight when you think about the holidays? Stressed? Are you worried about getting into arguments, not living up to the expectations of others, not choosing the right gifts? The American Psychological Association says that anxiety increases during the holidays. Although the holidays should be a fun time, they bring a lot of stress and sometimes bring us down, which weakens our relationships.

Wondering why this season brings stress and heartache instead of a blaze of excitement?

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

Look inside the word “vacation.” It means “holy day,” but holy days should be about building stronger relationships, sharing, and love. Many times, they end up being a nuisance.

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 right now. “The hype and commercialism of the season lead to increased stress,” says a recent psychological report. Holy days should be about strengthening relationships, sharing and love.

Sure, there are problems: the cousin who hosts everyone, then gets mad that no one invites her back. Friends who share nasty gossip. The relative who drinks too much and gets into a fight, leaving everyone wondering if they should bother coming next year.

Why bother?

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

Make the holidays a time of soul-to-soul connection. Meet others with no expectations (“I picked her out a great gift and all she 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 easy tips to renew your Christmas spirit today!

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

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

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

4. Remember the children. Many organizations organize visits from Santa Claus, plays or concerts to make Christmas in the hospital a happy time for children.

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

6. Discover your own style. Just because her sister-in-law is hosting a fancy New Years brunch buffet doesn’t mean it’s her thing. No IMITATION of what works for others! Your style can be a shared lunch instead. Just make it yours!

7. Take care and relax. Her body won’t thank you for the rich indulgent party food. Too in a hurry to cook and eat properly? Find simple foods that are easy to prepare and that really nourish your spirit. Go for a walk, practice yoga if you feel like it. Sit back and relax, without distractions: put away your phone, mp3 player, remote control, notepad…

8. Make that call. There’s a person out there that you feel like you can’t call. She maybe she lost contact because her husband was sick. She maybe she’s fighting with a friend of yours and you didn’t want to take sides. Fix those fences and you’ll heal yourself too.

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 tender this time of year; we are ready, willing and able to forgive. Forgive yourself first, and let go of grudges. Apologize to others. 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 through 2014 and beyond. Let us pray together for this upcoming holiday season:

Let’s go beyond ourselves.

Let’s bring light to the world

Being light in the world.

Let’s serve others with joy

Let’s approach with joy

surrender expectations

And I feel only wonder

surround us with love

Spreading love in the world.

changing only us

We can change the world.

“Love and Light for All”

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