“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”  -Charles Dickens, author, A Tale of Two Cities

Full discloser: I actually love the holiday season. Unfortunately, this does not hold true for everyone. In fact, I have been asked on numerous occasions to provide strategies for those who find the whole season quite stressful.

For many people, the holiday season is not filled with “Ho, Ho, Ho” frivolity. Instead, it’s become an assault on the senses, amplifying the sometimes overwhelming stress of everyday living. People are coping with the chaotic uncertainty of health care issues, trying to comprehend the bitterly gridlocked state of our government and aware of how many workers have already given up on finding a job.

Heedless of this, merchants hit us heavily with all shapes and forms of holiday harassment. We are bombarded with visual and auditory noise – including television and internet commercials and special offers of every type imaginable. We go to office parties, often hanging out with people with whom – under any other circumstances – we would never consider sharing our leisure time. We are manipulated with the promise of saving money if we get up in the middle of the night to join the charging herds as they mob the malls. Then, there’s the arrival of Christmas cards that instill guilt if one is not dispatched in return. And, for many poor souls, there is sadness, loneliness and the reminder of loss.

After that, we set ourselves up with the false expectation that the enforced gaiety of New Year’s Eve will be an exciting, fulfilling experience and we vow to make resolutions that, according to studies, only 8% of people are successful at keeping.

It’s been shown that the holidays create more anxiety and stress than any other time of the year. This stress is nothing to “ho, ho, ho” about, either. Stress increases your risk of illness, even death. Researchers have concluded holiday anxiety and overindulgence help explain the soaring rate of fatal heart attacks in December and January.

Let me rephrase that. It is our mindset, perception and attitude – through which we create that anxiety – not the stress – that’s most does us in.

As ‘COO’ (Chief Operating Officer) of your mind, you can empower yourself by focusing on that which will nurture you in both your personal and professional life. Here are five strategies which can help you live an exceptional life during the holidays and beyond.

Strategy 1: Dial down the expectations.

Norman Rockwell paintings of families are two-dimensional and often bear no resemblance to real life. The reality is that you are not going to squeeze in all the love, emotion, intimacy and bonding into a couple of days. Humans are imperfect and do not usually conform to your expectations. So have fun – in spite of annoyances and irritations. Focus on accepting people as they are. Focus on being loving, compassionate and forgiving.

Strategy 2: Reflect on the reason for the season.

Look beyond a culture that conspires to cash in on ‘gifts’ and consider on the real meaning of the holiday season. Take time to reflect on what it really means to you. Whether it’s about religion, family, friends, giving or community, make what’s important to you a top priority. Focus on what you personally can do to fulfill the meaning you hold for the season.

Strategy 3: Focus on being grateful.

Gratitude is a real game changer. I don’t say that lightly. When you focus on that for which you are grateful – you actually change your brain. You simply cannot focus on loss or fear of any type when you are grateful. Before you go to bed, write down five things for which you are grateful and review your list upon awakening in the morning. Then focus on friends, and those to whom you sincerely want to show your gratitude and – let yourself off the hook for the rest.

Strategy 4: Give the gifts that money can’t buy.

My wife and I made a mutual decision long ago. We agreed that we don’t need any more ‘stuff.’ What we do want and appreciate most, is receiving a gift that money can’t buy – an experience. Personally, it can be a gift certificate for a meal or a massage or, better yet, sharing an adventure.

By getting creative, you can avoid the stresses of traffic, crowded stores and that lingering dissatisfaction of spending a small fortune on a generic gift. Four out of five people say they would prefer a photo album filled with childhood memories to a store-bought gift. And, you can always make your own coupons redeemable for backrubs or homemade brownies.

Strategy 5: Don’t isolate during the holidays.

Whatever you do, try your best not to face the holidays alone. Feeling isolated in life is destructive to your mental, physical and spiritual health. During the holidays, detaching yourself can amplify loss and loneliness. Be pro-active and connect with family, friends, or others. Seek out ways to volunteer your time at the local soup kitchen or charity event. And, do yourself a big favor and try to be around children during the holidays. Children, yours or another’s, can never get enough attention and love. It’s a healing exercise and it will put your focus where it needs to be during the holidays – on others.

So, if you fall in to the category of those who having trouble coping with the holidays, follow these five strategies. I wish you a very happy, healthy, loving and joyous holiday season.

For more information on James Mapes, visit http://www.speakernow.com/espeakers/11570/James-Mapes.html

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