I have 6 holiday stress tips to help you this holiday season. I could probably get away with just one if it's this: Can the shoulds. Can them. Get rid of them. We too often put expectations on ourselves that overwhelm us. We feel frustrated because we are not where we should be. We are not doing things we should do. Do you see where the should creeps in all over the place? What if we were to take everything that's on your should list and just throw it out. Toss it out the window. No more shoulds. What would happen? Oh, you might not get all of that stuff done? But it's okay because it's not a should anymore.

Some may say, “Oh, but Dr. Paul, I want to do this.” Oh, well, that's different. Do you want to do this stuff? Are you doing it because you should do it? One of the most stressful things about holidays is the shoulds of the expectations and the things that you've set up in your own mind as requirements. But they are not requirements. Check out the difference between choose to and have to. If you choose to do something, how do you feel? Totally different. If you have to do something, then that's when it starts becoming a burden, right? Can the shoulds. All of this is by choice, and we know the difference when we can ask a question. This is kind of a psychological trick actually. “What would happen if I didn't?” Now, your mind might jump quickly to, “Well, but I have to,” “It’s tradition,” or “Everybody's expecting it.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know, I get it. And what would happen if you didn't? This introduces a possibility to your mind that maybe you could opt out. Not that you would. Are you there because you should be there or because you choose to be there? A whole different game psychologically. That tip in and of itself is going to take care of most of the holiday stress that you could experience. But why stop there? Because there's more that we can do.

Here's the next tip: Breathe. I know, you breathe all the time. But I'm talking about doing some intentional slow deep breathing to calm down the limbic system response in your brain that triggers the fight-or-flight mode. Honestly, we are talking about holidays here, people. Holidays. Those are times that should be joyful and fun and pleasant, right? Why are they not? Because we get into our fight-or-flight mode. Fight-or-flight is simply your brains way of taking care of you and keeping you safe. You're not really in danger. So, if you'll do some slow deep breathing, and I suggest in through the nose, nice and deep and then just hold it and check for any stress. You know, in your neck or your shoulders. Let that go. And then let the air out through your mouth nice and slow. Exhale twice as long as you did to inhale. That's a mechanical way to calm down the limbic system response in your own brain and get you back into a mode that allows you to do this. Stay in the present. Stay here. Stay now.

Most the stress that you encounter as you get into the holidays is in anticipation of something that's not happening right now. You have to prepare for the party or for the event that's coming up. Or for the relatives that are coming from out of town and what are they going to say and what are going to do? See, it's all in the future. It's not right now. When you do the breathing, it puts your brain in a condition that you can actually focus on and enjoy the present right here, right now. What are you doing in this moment? Let's say that you are preparing holiday cards to send out to all of your friends and relatives. People that you have known 20 years. Are you feeling stressed because they might not get out in time or are you enjoying the act of physically writing a person's name that you care about? What if you could be in that moment? Enjoy writing the name. What if you've got a whole bunch of dishes to do because you've been doing some baking and preparing stuff for the holiday and it's so stressful? What if you could enjoy doing the dishes? Be present in that moment. Because life is to be enjoyed now and after all the stuff is done. Now is all you’ve got so be present.

You know in the English language, the word present has at least 3 meanings. It means here in this space. It means now in this time. And it means gift because you give someone a present. Or you can receive a present. Present means all 3 of those things. Give yourself the gift of being here and now, doing what you are doing and enjoying it fully right now. It's a huge powerful tip.

Now, I can't leave this one out. Eat well and get regular exercise. Take care of the equipment. We sometimes toss this aside during the holidays. Exercise during holidays for your mental health. Keep your body moving. Keep the blood flowing and eat well too. Now, I've got a little disclaimer here because during the holidays, typically, we have foods available to us that are not usually available. They're traditional, they're fun. They're usually a little higher in sugar, higher carbs, higher fats. Right? You know what I'm talking about. What if you were to eat well including the treats? I'm not saying only eat carrots and celery. I'm saying enjoy the treats. Be present with the treats, but don't over indulge. That never works out well for anyone. Enjoy them in the present, in the moment. This is going to increase your enjoyment of the holidays. Take care of your body, but don't deprive yourself of some of the fun things that come along as part of it. That's going to help your stress level.

Traditions are an important part of holidays and they are sometimes meaningless. I remember a story that my friend told me as he was writing his book. His name is Garrett Gunderson. Killing Sacred Cows is one of the best personal finance books I've ever read. In this book, Garrett tells about a tradition. In this tradition, when you're baking the holiday ham, you cut off the ends of the ham before you put it into the oven. And everybody's wondering, “Why do you cut off the ends?” “Oh, I don't know. Because that's the way mom did it.” Well, let's ask mom? “Mom, why do you cut off the ends of the ham?” She replies, “Well, I don't know. That's just the way my mom did it.” Well let's ask grandma. “Grandma, why do we cut off the ends of the ham?” “I don't know why you cut off the ends of the ham, but my pan was only this big. I had to cut off the ends to make it fit.” Sometimes traditions get perpetuated without the meaning behind the tradition.

What are the traditions in your family, in your culture, in your home around the holidays? Can you find the meaning behind the traditions? When you do that it adds a level of richness and flavor to the holidays that you miss if you are simply trying to carry out the traditions without the meaning.

Now, one final thought. This is a powerful way to approach life not just in the holidays but at other times. Turn your focus from inside yourself to all about others. This has a powerful impact on you psychologically and also socially. When you turn your focus out from yourself, you feel less anxiety. That's one reason to do it. It increases the meaning and the purpose in your life, and it blesses the lives of other people. Because now you're looking for ways to serve them. Some of my most memorable holidays include meaningful service that we chose to do together as a family. And that's not self-focused. That's how can we help or lift or enrich someone else's life? Turn your focus to them and just see what happens. That's my invitation to you.

Dr. Paul and the Live On Purpose Family