“There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.”
-Denis Waitley, author

My assistant called me with the news that I had just received an invitation to speak in Boston. That’s the good news because I absolutely love what I do. However, within seconds, I realized that I, along with millions of others, had to put up with the horrors of airport travel. That’s the bad news – the very bad news. I felt my spirits slump until my wife suggested that I take Amtrak. As if a great burden was lifted from my shoulders, my mood lightened and my stress level receded.

Why hadn’t I or my assistant first thought of reaching my destination by rail? Perhaps the oversight was due to the whirlwind pace we lead or just plain habit. Whatever the reason, the prospect of taking the train immediately eliminated the “self-created” stress I was feeling at the idea of flying.

As I thought about this, I wondered how many of us, in our own way, unduly beat ourselves up and create far more stress than we need to in order to realize a result that might be achieved with much more ease. There was no doubt that the goal was to get to Boston. It was how I got there that made a difference in my stress level.

As the holidays descend on us, perhaps we might rethink how we deal with this season – sanely or insanely. As you know, this time of year seems to spark a cascade of negative stress, depression and even, God forbid – suicide. Many feel overwhelmed as they find themselves faced with a multitude of demands on both their time and their finances. There’s shopping to do, parties to go to and dinners to prepare or attend, sometimes with family members who may or may not the most pleasant people to spend time with. On the flip side, there are many individuals who, face the holiday alone, experience anxiety, panic attacks, depression and other stress related disorders.

All this potential chaos seems fairly logical until you acknowledge that this holiday is something we decide to celebrate and that most of our stress is the result of how we choose to celebrate. So, as I did when I chose to take the train instead of enduring the increasing indignities of flying, perhaps you can choose to celebrate with a little more ease and still arrive at your destination, a happy and peaceful holiday.

It’s important to realize that stress is really neutral and as Dr. Deepak Chopra says, “Stress is simply our own response to changes in our environment or to anything that requires us to adapt or adjust. Even events that we look forward to can cause stress as we adapt to …life.” The point is that stress isn’t an external situation or event, but your personal response to change. Negative stress is mental before its physical and you can eliminate the physically harmful effects of stress by learning to manage your mind.

Here are a few tips that can help make your holiday and everyday more peaceful.

  1. Plan ahead. Procrastination around the holiday is, to put it simply, stress inducing and self-destructive. So, look at your calendar and set aside specific days for shopping, baking, writing cards, visiting friends or other activities. If you follow no other advice, prepare, plan ahead and you will greatly reduce your stress level.
  2. Be sensible about gift giving. You must never equate the amount you spend on a gift with the love and caring you hold for someone. This is not only self-destructive, it’s just plain – faulty thinking. If this is true for you, perhaps you need to rethink how you view your relationships.
    Here are some suggestions for gift giving that can take the pressure off:

    • If money is tight, make a personalized coupon book that gives someone permission to call upon you for a favor like baby sitting, doing the dishes for a week, or washing the car. Or, if you’re really stuck, make a contribution to charity in someone’s name. That way, the individual knows you care and you get to be charitable.
    • Ask people what they want instead of making yourself crazy searching for the perfect gift or giving them something that they don’t need.
  3. Give the gift of your time and service. If you feel lonely, isolated or depressed, volunteer your time. There is no greater way to get your attention off yourself than to help someone else. Call any of your local service organizations, churches or temples for suggestions. There are limitless ways you can be of service.
  4. Make peace of mind your highest priority. Some families – and acquaintances – just don’t seem to be able to get along but they still get together for the holidays. They will argue about the most trivial of matters or they’re sometimes sharply divided when it comes to politics or religion. If your negative stress rises in the red zone when quibbling or argumentative family members go at it, you’re the one who has to be proactive. If you can’t set the rules, refuse to get sucked in to their conflict. Change the subject. Do the dishes. Smile. Above all, make peace your number one priority.
  5. Ask for help. One of the great stressors of life and especially the holidays is the belief that you’ve got to handle it by yourself, that you must do the shopping, cook the dinner, buy the presents and clean up the mess. I’ve said this before – you don’t have to do it alone. That’s a choice. If you love do it alone, then by all means do it. But, if you don’t – ask for help. Divide up the workload. Yes, the experience of the holidays may be a little different from the past. So what? It’s worth your sanity.

The holiday season can be fun – really! Implement these 5 tips in your life and find out how easily you can reduce your stress. You do have choice. Happy Holidays!