Tips to Make the Holidays Less stressful. (And more Merry & Bright)

We typically refer to the holiday season as the most wonderful time of the year. 

But is that true for you? If it is, I am happy for you.

But if it’s not, you are definitely not alone!

Statistically-speaking, it appears that for a good three months, including the time before and after the holidays, our stress level is at its worst for the majority of us.

Further, seasonal depression abounds during the holiday season. Many additional financial strains, extra work demands for end-of-the-year deadlines, and dealings with family members challenge our ability to stay positive, present and calm.

Not to mention, many of us have to rise to the occasion of having a “wonderful life” when our reality is not congruent with the commercials and holiday shows that bombard us. Many of us are divorced, single parents.  Some of us live thousands of miles away from home. And others are adjusting to life without loved ones who are no longer here.

Between the extra expenses, gifts, travel, decorations, dinner parties, loneliness, distractions of our normal routine, long lines, loss, divorces, extra traffic, dealing with family, and oh-so-many expectations are you surprised we suffer from holiday stress?

It does not matter whether the holiday is Hanukah, Christmas, or Diwali. The extra load the holidays place on our already-full plates often exceeds our capacity to rise to the occasion without taking our bodies out of whack.

However, there is a magical gift to be found in the holidays and in the rest of our life. If the script that was passed on to us is causing us exhaustion, anxiety, pressure, and strain, it is 100% within our control to change it!

We are the creators of our reality and we can re-write any part of our story to make it more balanced, sustainable, jolly, and bright!

Here are nineteen suggestions to consider in re-writing your holiday story, in order to savor the festivities without burning out.

Upgrade your mindset

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1.    How we celebrate Christmas as we grow older can change.

The holiday tale you were handed as part of your family history includes a myriad of family traditions that perhaps are not realistic today. 

If you want to write a new holiday story that fits your current reality, you can start by choosing a new theme. Then you can determine the plot, the protagonists, the roles, and the dialogue that work for you. Here are some suggestions for a new story with a happier ending:

2. Set your own standards, expectations, and what “good enough” looks like for you. Don’t try to keep up with traditions that are unrealistic based on your life’s circumstances.

3. Focus only on what you can control. 

4. Enjoy the journey without being distracted by worries about the result.

5. Strive for balance as opposed to perfection.

6. Explore ways you can turn to-do list items into opportunities for connection. My lovely friend Steph role-modeled this beautifully when she hosted a Friendsgiving soiree this year. Everybody contributed to a lovely meal, and part of the joy was decorating her Christmas tree together. What a great way to enjoy the moment and take the decorating chore off her to-do list!

Prioritize and plan ahead

7.    Set a budget without being afraid of being a Scrooge.

You may know of the character, Scrooge, from the story The Christmas Carol. He was miserly and selfish. But you can set limits and still be generous.

After all, how generous we are with our time, energy, and money hinges on the love and thought we place into things and not the quantity.

What if you avoid over-spending, as well as the overwhelming lines and exhaustion of holiday shopping, by creating gifts for your dearest ones? 

You can spend time with your children decorating useful everyday things, like coffee mugs for example. Or you can play some holiday music by the fire while reviewing your photos from the past year. Select your favorite photos of adventures you shared with family and friends. You can then order prints of those photos, place them in frames, and turn them into wonderful gifts.

8.    Don’t let the Grinch steal your Christmas.

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You may remember the Grinch,  Dr. Seuss’s mean-tempered character, who was so irritated by the holiday festivities that he decided to destroy Christmas.

When you lose yourself in an attempt to please everyone and surpass everybody else’s expectations, guess what happens! You burnout. The typical symptoms of burnout— exhaustion, irritability, insomnia, and ineffectiveness—can turn the nicest of us into the Grinch! What good is staying up all night to prepare the perfect holiday gathering if you are so snappish and irritable that you cannot enjoy it?

Do you remember the last time you gave up sleep, wholesome nutrition, or your little healthful rituals to rise to the unrealistic expectations of your family, friends, or work?

How did that feel in your body and spirit? 

The truth is, it is impossible to be the perfect mother, daughter, cook, and executive all at the same time. It is imperative that we take control of our priorities by being mindful of what is important to our well-being!  

To avoid burning out this holiday season, incorporate the following when setting your holiday priorities. 

9. Put yourself on top of your priority list! 

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10. Plan ahead how you will spend your time, your money, and your energy. 

11. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

12. Nurture your body.

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Don’t let the holiday over-burden your need for rest in between sprints. A short 15-minute walk can be a great way to de-stress. There is a great sense of peace in the sound of the wind whistling through the trees and the extra blood pumping through your blood when you gift yourself with a few minutes of activity in nature. Not to mention, research has revealed that even short amounts of daily exercise activate the same brain circuits as anti-depressants do.  

13. Nurture your mind. If extra contact with relatives, which takes you out of your zen, is on the menu during the holidays, purposely infuse positive activities in between visiting with them. This can include committing to a guided meditation before you go to sleep, listening to an uplifting podcast on the way to work, or simply planning to spend more time with people who uplift your spirits.

14.  Enjoy the moment. Resist the urge to let your mind wander to stressful thoughts. Although this is easier said than done, training your attention to stay in the present moment is an incredible practice. Its benefits go beyond being a popular fad. Keeping your attention in the now has many physiological and psychological benefits. Some of those benefits are blood pressure reduction, increased optimism, and even growth in regions of your brain that are associated with inner strengths, like improved concentration and problem-solving.

Dare to be you and do things differently

15.    Let Rudolph show you the joy of being different .

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Do you remember the story of Rudolph, one of Santa’s reindeer, who was shunned by the other reindeer because he had a bright, red nose? But then the light of his nose saved Christmas as he guided Santa’s sleigh on a foggy night. 

The stress to conform can increase during the holidays. Once upon a time we lived in small communities with family structures that had defined roles and plenty of support available. Today, the pace of life is very different with many single-parent households, moms in executive roles, and family members geographically spread around the nation or the world.

High demands are placed on us during the holidays.  It takes courage to defy the familial norms and traditions. Choosing how you want your life to be during the holiday season means you have the opportunity to create new traditions that are aligned with who you are today.

Here are some additional things to keep in mind as you become a holiday tradition pioneer:

16. Align traditions with your interests.

What traditions are linked to what gives you joy? For example, I discovered that volunteering for a cause I am passionate about is a fantastic new holiday tradition with many benefits. It gives me the opportunity to savor my connectedness to the whole, spend wholesome time with my daughter, and deepen my sense of gratitude for our blessings. 

17. Master the art of saying no. We have associated a negative connotation to saying no to things that take us off-kilter. But whether you kindly decline to attend one more holiday affair or to host your negative relative for ten days, consider what you are saying yes to when you say no. Perhaps you are saying yes to peace of mind, centeredness, and a better night’s sleep!


18.    Choose the definition of the greatest gift.

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Beyond over-indulging, over-spending, forced family time, and endless to-do lists, the spirit of the holidays is really about pausing and opening the door to love.

The greatest gift we can all give to ourselves, our families, and the world we live in is taking back the reins of what is 100% within our control. We can choose all the ingredients and the small steps to take to create the life and the holiday season we love.

During this time, give yourself the space to reflect on what you need to continue, to stop, and to start doing in the coming year. You can use the following prompts to reflect.

o  What activities, choices, and people brought you happiness this last year?

o  How does your current self-care ritual feel? How do you nurture your body and soul? What more do you need?

o  What are some of the biggest pearls of wisdom you gathered this year and what would you like to do differently in the new year?

By pausing, reflecting, and choosing what you will do to move toward what you truly love, you can not only design a peaceful holiday, but a more satisfying life. 


19.    Remember what a wonderful life looks like to you.

Our busy lives, in and out of the holiday season, don’t always provide us with the opportunity to reflect on what truly makes life wonderful.

I know from personal experience how draining, stressful, and unfulfilling losing ourselves in all the things we “should be” doing can be.

Meeting a never-ending list of others’ expectations and standards obscures the wonder of life and deprives us of the joy that we all deserve.

But we can use this holiday season as the catalyst for positive change.

We can:

  • Decide which parts of our history we want to bring forth into the present moment.
  • Dare to incorporate new traditions that serve us well.
  • Elevate our self-care and honor our limits.
  • Prioritize and plan how we use our energy to honor what is important to us.

And then, the miracle happens. A door opens to a truly wonderful life. We feel calmer, more grounded, and can shed a tear for a special someone we miss yet smile at the glistening shine of a fresh snowflake.

And that is when we not only enjoy the festivities in the present moment, but we become a beacon of light for our families, our colleagues, and the collective whole.

May you have a wonderful, joyful, and peaceful holiday season!

What Cancer Research Taught Me About the Antidote to Stress

stress and cancer

Are you stressed out? Feeling overwhelmed? You are not alone!

Based on the latest American Institute on Stress survey, 75% of us regularly experience moderate to severe symptoms of stress, 50% of us lay awake at night worrying, and 68% of us consume alcohol at the end of the day to relax.

Additionally, the latest Gallup survey reflects that 70% of American employees are disengaged at work.

Is there a better way to respond to life’s daily challenges? What if you had the power to change anything that you do not like about your life? You do!

The cumbersome symptoms of stress that we experience are simply our body’s reactions to the meaning we give to life situations. What keeps us up at night is how we think about these situations.

We can choose to be in charge of our power by choosing the way we look at what we have come to define as the major challenges of our existence.

If you are you ready to challenge the conventional way of thinking and get reacquainted with your best self, you may want to consider the best lesson cancer research taught me: the conditioned way of defining the important elements of our life can cause miscommunication between our body and mind that lead to feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

Cancer – The devastating outcome of miscommunication between cells

My humble experience of developing cancer drugs in the laboratory taught me a critical truth: Cancer cells are not that different from any of our healthy cells. They just somehow lost their ability to communicate effectively with other cells, and hence they proliferate uncontrollably.

Stress is the way our body handles demands from the environment. It only becomes problematic when we constantly interpret situations as threats when they are not.

Just like in the case of cancer cells, we miscommunicate with our body systems.

In the face of my biggest challenges, I realized that central to the cause of human suffering is the hidden impact of the way we have allowed our conditioned way of thinking to disrupt the accurate communication between our body and our mind.

We have accepted the way critical elements have been defined by the status quo, never questioning the origin or validity of these terms or how much strain these definitions are putting our body under. For example, if our limiting beliefs have established our definition of success to be related to financial abundance, we will constantly be asking our body to invest more and more intensely in our work, never giving it the chance to revive in between sprints. Being in a constant state of expecting our body to rise to whatever occasion work requires of us, can lead to what we know as chronic stress, which is associated not just with uncomfortable short-term symptoms but also long-term health consequences.

Accepting the conditioned ways we define critical components of our life not only impacts our ability to communicate effectively with others and ourselves but greatly impacts our well-being.

When we identify any life situation as a threat, a tiny structure in our brain called the amygdala rings a very loud alarm that initiates a cascade of events involving a great number of chemicals, neurotransmitters, and body systems. This cascade results in what we call stress.

Research shows that the conditioned way of thinking of failure, for example, has the same power to trigger our amygdala and cause a stress reaction as a physical threat, like being chased by a bear. What can we do about stress triggered by our thoughts?

Question and redefine the important elements of life

Take a peek at two different ways of defining some important life elements—the conditioned way and a way that is reframed and redefined in a more positive aspect. Notice your emotions and bodily responses to these two different ways of looking at these common elements.


  • Conditioned definition: Meeting and exceeding society’s status quo expectations, such as earning a six-figure income, getting married, having children, and possessing expensive material goods.
  • Redefinition: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” —Mahatma Ghandi


  • Conditioned definition: The lack (or opposite) of success.
  • Redefinition: The valuable process of feedback about the changes we need to make to arrive at a successful outcome.


  • Conditioned definition: Getting what we want through intimidation, control, and domination of others with whom a real or perceived power imbalance is present.
  • Redefinition: The ability to do something effectively.

Love (as in an adult primary relationship)

  • Conditioned definition: An experience that only some few of us are blessed to have in which we are connected to our perfect match who always knows what to say, how to treat us, appreciates all that we are, and makes us happy all the time.
  • Redefinition: A practice; the choice to relate to another human being in a way that helps each one bring to life their best selves.


  • Conditioned definition: The absence of disease.
  • Redefinition: “Complete physical, emotional, and social well-being.” (World Health Organization)

How do these different definitions feel to you?

Have you accepted conditioned definitions that limit you and cause you to engage your body systems in defense from perceived threats? What if you were to question and redefine terms in a way similar to the examples of “redefinitions” shown above that could calm your inner critic and free your body systems from being used up for defense?

We can choose to overcome limiting, conditioned beliefs and re-write our story with our own words and definitions. You have the power to write your own story and create a happier reality.

The most important lesson cancer research taught me about the antidote to stress is that the most potent antidote at our disposal is our mind, which we can use to influence our physical health.

If you would like guidance in how to use your mind to overcome limiting beliefs and improve your health and happiness, I would be honored to help. I invite you to begin by joining the Mynzden community.

Five Simple Science Based Pathways to Happiness

Do you feel happy?

If your answer to that question is “yes but…,” I would like to invite you to consider some unconventional pathways to happiness. After all, among all the things we search for in this life, you could say that happiness is the one pursuit that is universal! In addition, scientific research clearly substantiates that happiness is linked to unimpeded well-being, peak performance, and professional success.

If you would like to experience more happiness, here are five practices based on secrets from the neuroscience of happy people that you can use:

  1. Question and redefine the important elements of your life.

Our beliefs, definitions, and values come from our familial, societal, and cultural history. These become our models of the world, and they affect our patterns of behavior and habits. For example, maybe we were raised with the belief that “to be successful in the corporate world you have to pay your dues and sacrifice your personal life.” That belief can lead to us working late evenings and weekends, which will eventually lead to complete imbalance between work and life. We can free ourselves from our history and create the future we want by carefully redefining the important terms in our life. For example, we could redefine success as “having a healthy work/life balance.” And what about our definition of happiness? Have you considered that the way we define happiness may determine whether or not we will be able to attain it? If we define happiness in an all or nothing way, for example, “I will be happy when I am a millionaire,” that sets us up for being unhappy until or if we reach that goal.

The practice: To identify definitions that inadvertently take you out of balance, a good practice is to dedicate time to observe and change beliefs that we have adopted from our environment that affect us in a negative way. Take a moment to create a list of your top three causes of stress. Then, in a second column, list the beliefs and values that are related to those elements being stressors. What terms do you need to redefine so that you can get closer to wholeness and balance? When I was a starving student in a Northern England university, I was one of the people who thought happiness was “having a million dollars.” Today I define happiness as “the ratio between expectation and outcome.” That way, I have an ongoing list of variables I can adjust to improve my sense of happiness, which lowers my level of stress.

  1. Quiet your mind.

Does mindfulness seem like a mystical practice that you are not sure you are capable of performing? What if we look at mindfulness in a way that takes the mysticism and mystery out of it? Mindfulness is simply the practice of directing our attention to the present moment. Although simple, this practice is the most robust and scientific evidence-based practice for health, productivity, and happiness. Several decades of studies show tremendous structural and functional benefits in the brains of fellow humans who have a regular mindfulness practice.

The practice: Find a small slot every day (5-10 minutes) to keep your attention only on your breath. When you notice your attention wandering off (to a negative interaction with your spouse, what you will cook for dinner, or anything else), simply notice it and bring your attention back to your breath. Little by little, you will be happy to realize that after all these years, much of your suffering was a byproduct of your thoughts and emotions. You can find my favorite guided meditation here to help you get started:

  1. Nurture your body.

We have decades of data reflecting the incredible benefits of healthy foods and exercise on our cardiovascular health. But did you know that exercise has been proven to have another significant effect? It can make you happier! Exercise has been studied as a treatment for depression for the last thirty years, ever since Professor James Blumenthal (Dept. of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University) noticed the inadvertent benefit of exercise on reducing symptoms of depression. A more recent review (2013) by the non-profit Colchrane, a leader in gathering and sharing evidence-based medicine resources, concluded that exercise is as effective a treatment for depression as pharmaceutical treatments.

The practice: Take a few moments to plan out your week so you can slowly, but surely, add regular intervals of exercise into your busy schedule. Can you listen to a conference call, your favorite Podcast, or a TED talk while you are taking a walk instead of sitting at your desk? Although at first it may seem like a challenge to fit one more thing into your busy life, I can promise you that if you stick to it for at least three weeks, you can create a new habit for life. The positive impact on your mood of “feel good” chemicals (like glutamate and GABA) released in your brain through exercise will make you so happy you did!

  1. Turn toward what matters.

Whether we turn to neuroscience, psychology, or human experience, the evidence is clear that strong social connections are one of the most important predictors for longevity, health, and happiness! I hear sometimes that we “don’t have time for relationships” in our busy world. As it turns out, having strong relationships that act as a safety net makes us so much happier. Social connections not only flood our system with oxytocin, which reduces fear in our brain, but also create the solid core from which we can conquer the ups and downs of life with increased well-being.

The practice: Add taking the time EVERY DAY to connect with the important people in your life to your to-do list. Ask yourself what you appreciate about them and take the time to let them know. Maybe you can even put a love note in their briefcase.

  1. Cultivate the positive perspective.

Depression is the most common mental disorder in the world affecting more than 300 million people. Prominent scientists around the world have invested a significant amount of time and effort in understanding it. Today, with the insights we have gathered from the way depression affects the brain, we know exactly which parts of our brain we need to affect to build a happy brain that is resilient against depression and anxiety and we know how to do it. For example, we know positive thoughts can build the part of our brains that reduce depression and increase happiness. Best yet, we don’t have to be neuroscientists to benefit from this knowledge.

The practice: Whenever something happens to you that elicits negative emotions, acknowledge the validity of those feelings and redirect your attention to uncovering five positive elements of that experience. For example, if you were just laid off, recognize the legitimate concern about this event. Then focus your attention on how this unforeseen circumstance could perhaps provide you with a much-needed reset space to reconsider your next career move, or with time with your family, and so on and so forth.

FINAL THOUGHTS Beyond the euphoric emotions that we all associate with being happy, there are also many evidence-based benefits to our well-being when we are feeling happy. Being happier not only makes us more open, approachable, hopeful, and optimistic, but also increases our immune function and our ability to calm down in the midst of chaos.There has never been a better time to employ self-compassion and accountability toward nurturing the real sources of happiness in our life.

After all, scientific research has proven that the conventional things we historically go after, fail to make us happier. For example, a relatively recent Princeton University study by Nobel-prize winning economist, Angus Deaton, and psychologist, Daniel Kahneman showed that once one’s income level reaches $75,000 per year, no matter how much more we make, it makes no difference to our degree of happiness!

It appears that beyond the short bursts of primal happiness from having nice material possessions, enjoying a lovely meal, or making love, there is one type of happiness that is internal—one that we carry with us always regardless of the size of our bank account or the type of car we drive.

That kind of happiness hinges upon our ability to maintain a calm nervous system, even when experiences we are having are not pleasant.

Almost six decades of scientific data are illuminating significant clues on how to accomplish having a calm nervous system. We can free ourselves from past limiting beliefs that hold us hostage, redefine the important elements of our life, quiet our minds and nurture our bodies, connect with our loved ones, and focus on the positive, thereby harnessing our incredible nervous system for our health and well-being.

When we establish this sense of internal safety, we will be able to perceive the world and our life as a positive experience.

And that kind of happiness, my friend, is 100% within your control!