Jennifer Folsom loves the holidays.
“I love the time that it forces me to carve out for my family,” said the Glenburn mother of twin girls, 7, and a 3-year-old son. “I love seeing it through the eyes of my kids.”
She also hates the holidays.
“I hate how fast it goes,” she said. “I feel like I’m never ready until Christmas Eve, no matter how hard I plan ahead or try to be prepared. There’s always something.”
In addition to motherhood, Folsom is an assistant women’s basketball coach at Husson University, an independent sales consultant for Thirty One bags, and works full-time at Eastern Maine Healthcare. “I would like to think that I can carve out a few hours on a Friday evening for my husband and I to do dinner and shopping,” she said. “But he’s an assistant baseball coach at Husson so both of us have commitments. We’re never really home or around at the same time.”
Every year, Folsom promises herself the holidays will be different. “I have all the intentions in the world of having my shopping done by Thanksgiving,” she said, “but it never happens. Or if I do shop early, I forget that I have it and I end up buying twice as much.”
Folsom is not alone. The fast forward button on life seems to get pushed for many as the holidays draw near. Finding time to fit it all in seems to become an impossible feat.
“There is no such thing as perfect,” said Kirsten Webb of Searsport Counseling Associates in Belfast. “Commercials tell us to make elaborate meals for our loved ones. Stores encourage us to purchase gifts and treasures to show them we care. We feel discouraged trying to make it all come true and that results in stress.”
That pressure cooker of emotions releases cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine in our bodies, according to Webb. “These lower our blood sugars and intellectual functioning,” she explained, “preparing us for ‘fight or flight.’”
Recovering from that can take hours or even days, according to Webb.
Kim Corey has been a professional organizer for 16 years. The owner of Finely Sorted Organizing Service said taking a “time out” can often lead to lower stress levels.
“Feeling overwhelmed is the mental equivalent of carrying around a large load of rocks,” Corey explained. “Sooner or later you’re going to get tired and burn out. One needs to put the rocks down until mental fortitude can be regained.”
Corey suggested what she calls a mind dump.
“Dump everything at once in mind-mapping form so that you don’t forget anything,” she said. “That includes ‘to dos’ from all areas of your life—personal and work. This allows your mind processor to focus on the problems one at a time.”
Once those items have been prioritized, Corey recommends writing them all on a selected day of your calendar, rather than a list. “This way you will see how the items will actually fit in time.”
Folsom had to figure out a way to host not one but two Christmas dinners at her house.
“We always have Christmas dinner with my side of the family,” she said. “Most of my husband’s family is in the healthcare field so Christmas is typically a good day for them to work. So we have a ‘Not On Christmas Christmas’ event at some point during the holidays, either the weekend before or the first weekend in January.”
Folsom came up with a plan to keep herself out of the kitchen.
“I don’t cook at all,” she said with a laugh. “I strategically offer our home as a location for both families for Christmas. You come, but you bring food and someone else does the cooking and then I’ll clean up after.”
Sandy Imondi of Organized Solutions said simplifying your holiday routine should be about substituting quality over quantity.
“Instead of six different types of cookies, make one type and make it special,” she said. “Perhaps it’s your favorite or your grandmother’s recipe. Put all the love from those unmade five other types of cookies into this special batch, take your time and enjoy the experience.”
Agreeing ahead of time to limit the number of presents for extended family members can also alleviate a lot of stress and anxiety, said Imondi. “No adult needs presents anymore, and only one present per child. Spend time on kids, not money.”
Webb also believes in getting back to the basics. “Those who start with the best intentions and organizing tools may be led astray by many factors,” she said. “It is easy to get distracted by the many messages and ideas presented to us. There are a growing number of people in our community who engage in more historical versions of the holidays and do not experience this.”
And while we may want to take a holiday from diet and exercise during the month of December, staying active and eating healthy can actually reduce your level of stress.
“Physical activity causes an increase in the production of endorphins, the brain’s ‘feel good’ chemicals,” said Suzanne Scroggins, a personal trainer and owner of Mind Over Matter in Hampden. “Endorphins act as natural pain killers for the body and also improve our ability to sleep, which in turn decreases stress.”
A little effort can go a long way in terms of boosting energy. “Take the stairs instead of the elevator,” said Scroggins. “Park your car further from your work, the mall, or other places. Walk while you wait for your kids to finish up their sporting practices or music lessons.“
Eating regularly throughout the day and staying hydrated can also keep you on track. “There are many foods that are considered ‘stress busters’ such as oatmeal, eggs, oranges, blueberries, spinach, asparagus, avocado, and almonds,” Scroggins said. “Oh, and my personal favorite—dark chocolate.”
Signs of severe seasonal stress could indicate a bigger problem, according to Webb. “Interference with occupational, daily and affective function, poor appetite, sleep disturbance, getting angry or upset beyond normal levels or overwhelming sadness that won’t go away,“ Webb said, “are signals of a more serious disorder and professional help should be sought immediately.”
Folsom has no doubt she’ll be up until 1 a.m. Dec. 25, wrapping those last minute presents to put under the tree. Come Christmas morning, however, when her three kids wake up excited to see if Santa came, Folsom said all of the stress leading up to that moment melts away.
“To see them run downstairs and their eyes light up and just the excitement, it makes me a kid again. It’s so worth it to live all that through their eyes. You really forget everything else.”