Problems with fertility can create real stress for couples. Although no definitive studies have been documented that demonstrate stress itself as a cause of infertility, many studies do show that reducing stress and tension may improve pregnancy success rates…
There are several strategies that you might consider to make it through this holiday season with a bit of good cheer. This year, make the holiday special for you and your partner by starting a few new traditions that will have a special meaning for just the two of you.
Coping with Family & Friends
Your friends and loved ones are probably unaware that holiday events can be difficult or distressing for individuals or couples experiencing difficulties with fertility. Think about what may be expected of you ahead of time, both socially and emotionally, for specific holiday or family events. Consider your own needs and preferences as well. It is important to find a balance between joining and avoiding family functions so each partner’s needs are respected. An important point to consider is to plan ahead what topics you and your partner want to keep private, which subjects you both are willing to discuss, and with whom.
The following questions can help prepare you for discussions with others:
- Reviewing past holidays, what were the major stressors of holidays past and what can you do to address or eliminate them beforehand this year?
- If your struggles with fertility were to go for many months or years, which family members or friends would you want in your support network?
- Who do you want to know about your diagnosis and treatment?
- Are there folks that might best be left out of the information loop?
- Once information about your infertility struggles is disclosed, how much and what kind of information is appropriate or do you feel comfortable sharing?
- What types of support do you have in place to cope with anticipated and unanticipated reactions to your disclosure?
Individual Coping Strategies
In order to help relieve or reduce stress on a day-to-day basis, try to participate in activities that are relaxing, fun, and easy to do. Such activities might include (but certainly are not limited to) taking a walk, listening to music, hitting a few golf balls, an exercise class, a massage, meditation, yoga, and deep breathing. During this holiday season, be sure to give yourself a few little treats and extra little pleasures.
Additional strategies for reducing stress and anxiety could include:
- Eating regular and nourishing meals
- Avoiding exhaustion, loss of sleep, and overwork
- Understanding what your limits are and pacing yourself accordingly
- Becoming a more active participant instead of a passive recipient as you manage your fertility holiday stressors
- Giving yourself “permission to be” (give yourself breathing space and expect fluctuations in your mood and perspective)
Coping Strategies for Couples
Of course, you and your partner will develop your own individual coping strategies. It is also important to work together to find ways to decrease the stress you may face as a couple.
Stress reduction strategies to consider as a couple include:
- Set reasonable goals together to make holiday times happier and easier to manage
- Remember that it is okay to limit the time you spend with family or friends if it is too stressful for either or both partners (plan your holiday calendar accordingly)
- Maintain open, honest communication with each other
- Be willing to take a break from the day-to-day shadow of fertility (it is important to limit your conversation about fertility treatment to perhaps 30 minutes a day. Don’t let it take over your time together)
- Plan regular and intimate (nonsexual) time together
- Although it may not be easy, work to arrive at an emotional consensus that respects each partner’s needs
- Respect differences in your personal coping strategies
- Start a new holiday tradition that will have special meaning for both of you during future holidays
Struggles with fertility can be considered a “life-crisis” event, and it will typically create difficult and stressful life challenges. When you mix the challenges that come with infertility along with the holiday season, profound distress is likely to be felt by individuals and couples. Planning ahead on agreed upon approaches to tackle potential holiday issues or concerns, along with developing individual and partner coping strategies, will help you get through the holiday season this year.
Be sure to incorporate the events that are most meaningful to you into your holiday plans as much as possible. Don’t let infertility rob you of these joys. It may take a little bit of work, but if you work through the strategies listed above, you can still get into the holiday spirit, feeling joy and good cheer!
Keep in mind, however, that you should seek professional help (either individually or as a couple) if you continue to feel overly stressed or if stress-related symptoms increase. A psychologist, or counselor who specializes in reproductive health concerns, can help you work through your current stress and concerns. Be sure to talk with the staff at the Center of Reproductive Medicine if you need a referral or recommendation.