ATLANTA — For Michael Flanigan, the holidays overflow with sweetness — pies, cakes and warm family time.
He revels in decorating the Christmas tree with Nat King Cole crooning softly in the background, whipping up a sweet potato pie, playing football on Thanksgiving with cousins.
Still, as an entrepreneur of a startup company making personalized gifts — theExpressionary.com — this time of year can get extremely busy, and with that comes a certain level of stress.
While the holidays are a wonderful time for enjoying holiday rituals, it’s inevitable that crowded malls, worsening traffic and too many events in too little time will wear on us.
Flanigan, 25, mostly takes the holiday stress in stride. He tries not to fret about getting the perfect gift, and he’s learned it’s OK to say no to holiday parties to avoid getting overbooked.
“When things get really rough, I breathe and meditate and count my blessings, and I’m usually OK," Flanigan said.
Experts believe planning and adjusting expectations — as well as taking deep breaths — can go a long way in minimizing stress this time of year.
“There are the commercials, and it’s so hyped up that it should just be perfect. And that is a very unrealistic expectation," said Dr. Pamela Everett Thompson, an Atlanta psychologist.
Thompson said family dynamics also can be tricky, with some reverting to old behaviors when they go home. That said, every year provides a new opportunity to break away from old patterns, she said.
“For instance, there’s the daughter who has worked extra jobs to help her mother maintain a certain lifestyle and the moment she walks into the house, the mom is talking about how she needs new curtains ... . Instead of getting into an argument or getting on a soapbox, the daughter can pleasantly smile and say, ‘I wish I could help, but I can’t.’"
Kathleen Hall, founder and CEO of the Stress Institute based in Atlanta, said if people are feeling low, they should consider switching things up. She suggested volunteering or starting a new holiday tradition by going on a trip or decorating in a new way.
Thompson said it’s important to remember what makes this time of year so special, even magical, rarely comes in a box with a bow. It’s the memories — decorating the Christmas tree, lighting Hanukkah candles, singing songs around the fireplace.