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9 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health During the Holidays

The holidays can be difficult for anyone, but especially so for those experiencing infertility. A fertility doctor shares 9 tips for navigating the season.

November 29th, 2023 | 6 min. read

By Shaun Williams, MD, FACOG

The holidays are meant to be a time of celebration, but when you're struggling to grow your family, finding joy and maintaining your mental health during this season can be especially difficult. 

In this article:

Infertility & Mental Health During the Holidays

Many people look forward to the holiday season - spending time with loved ones, eating home-cooked meals, sharing memories, and dreaming about the new year ahead.

But when you're reeling from disappointing test results, anxious about an upcoming fertility treatment cycle, or feeling hopeless about being able to ever achieve your family-building dreams...the holiday season is often the most challenging time of year.

As you scroll through social media and watch end-of-year recap videos from friends who have welcomed new babies, it can be a painful reminder that your baby never made it into your arms. Festive pregnancy and birth announcements often sting. Opening the mail to find yet another holiday family photo brings heartache about all the things you're still longing for.

If you're dreading the season instead of looking forward to it, know that you're not alone.

9 Holiday Self-Care Tips for Fertility Patients

For anyone who is currently on a fertility journey and nervous about navigating the holidays, here are nine helpful tips to help get you through the next couple months with the unique stressors of infertility in mind.

#1 Reflect on Your Traditions  

Holiday traditions that hold meaning for you can bring comfort and happiness, but keeping up with certain traditions can sometimes add more stress. Consider starting new traditions or even just changing it up this year.

For example, if it will be too difficult to attend a large family gathering, opt to have a smaller and more selective get-together with loved ones you’re confident will be supportive of you as you go through fertility treatments.

#2 Make Time for Yourself

Don’t get so caught up in the holiday hubbub that you forget to make time for yourself. Remember to check in and take stock of your stress levels. Take time to rejuvenate during the holidays by choosing activities that bring you enjoyment, relaxation, or connection.

This may be a great time to get that massage you’ve been dreaming of, go for a hike with friends, try a new winter recipe, or spend time enjoying a good book. Prioritize what fills your cup and set aside time to practice whatever form of self-care feels best to you.

#3 Don't Compare Lives

In a time where most of us are constantly connected through various apps and social media platforms, we are bombarded with a continuous stream of content. It can be easy to fall into the trap of assuming that what we're seeing is someone's reality.

But the majority of the photos, videos, and updates we're scrolling through are a highly-curated set of posts that are meant to show only the best moments. It's just a highlight reel.

While it may look like the friend you follow is always taking relaxing vacations, they may actually be in the middle of a contentious divorce. The coworker who just posted an over-the-top pregnancy announcement might have had multiple miscarriages in the last year. 

Try to remember that what you see on social media is only a fraction of someone's reality.

It's never the full story. 

#4 Set Healthy Boundaries

A lot is expected of us during this busy time of year. Remember that you don’t have to do it all, and that your health and happiness are the most important - not the expectations of friends and family.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by a packed calendar full of upcoming events, take a moment to assess whether you need (or want) to bow out of any of these commitments. Those who love and support you will understand if you need to lighten your load a bit.

#5 Plan Ahead for Difficult Conversations

Most people have positive intentions but aren’t sure what to say. Some will offer unsolicited advice or ask invasive questions. Think about how you will address fertility-related topics if someone asks, and practice your responses so you aren’t caught off-guard in the moment. 

Here are some questions that might come up:

  • Are you currently in fertility treatment? 
  • What happened during your last treatment cycle?
  • Do you know why you can’t get pregnant?
  • When is your next transfer, test, or appointment? 
  • Why don’t you just adopt?

If you do decide to attend a party, make an exit strategy in case it gets too difficult for you.

Also, consider if there will be any pregnant relatives or friends at these events. Planning ahead and thinking about how these things might affect you will help you decide which gatherings you want to attend and those you might wish to skip this holiday season.

#6 Reach Out for Support

You may feel alone or feel like you're the only one struggling to get pregnant, especially around the holidays when all those cards and letters start flooding in. Finding a community of fellow fertility patients can make all the difference.

Reach out to your fertility clinic to see if they have any support groups (online or in-person) or can recommend other groups in your community.

Organizations like RESOLVE can point you to additional resources in your area. Social media platforms like Facebook also have fertility groups that you can join. It can be quite comforting to connect with others who understand what you are going through.

Need a little hope?

Meet real Illume Fertility patients and find comfort in the diversity of success. From donor conception to IVF and beyond, parents share their experiences with fertility treatment and what they learned on their journey to parenthood. 

Read Their Stories

#7 Do What Feels Right to You

There is no rule book on how you should spend the holidays. Keep in mind that what might feel enjoyable to someone else may not feel right for you. It is important to find your own way as you navigate your fertility journey.

Some may find comfort in being around family members, and others may find more enjoyment planning time with your partner or a close friend.  

#8 Don't Share Unless You're Ready To

If you've just gotten a positive pregnancy test after a loss, have an embryo transfer coming up, or simply aren't sure what's next on your fertility journey, remember that you don't owe anyone (even close friends or family) any updates.

Even well-meaning loved ones can push a little too hard for sensitive information sometimes, and especially with added social engagements and gatherings this holiday season - you may feel pressured to share updates before you're ready.

It's more than okay to keep some things private.

#9 Practice Self-Compassion

The holidays are a notoriously popular time for announcements like pregnancies and engagements. If a friend or family member shares that they are expecting a baby and you react strongly or feel numb and unable to congratulate them in that moment, be gentle with yourself. 

You're not a bad person for needing to step away for a minute to collect yourself. If you feel blindsided by someone's big news, share your feelings with someone else you trust and allow yourself some time to process your reaction. 

Your Mental Health Matters

What you decide you need or want to do today doesn’t have to be forever, and you can always make adjustments as needed. As you go through fertility treatment, especially during this time of the year, try to keep the main focus on what’s best for you emotionally.

Accept that it may mean shaking up seasonal traditions or routines.

So plan ahead, set boundaries, speak up when you're struggling, and do what feels right for you so that you can find your own joy while protecting your mental health during the holidays.

Shaun Williams, MD, FACOG

Dr. Shaun C. Williams is a Partner and fertility specialist at Illume Fertility. He is board certified in both Reproductive Endocrinology and Obstetrics and Gynecology and has been working with fertility patients in Connecticut since 2005.

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