The most wonderful time of the year? Not for everybody. The holidays can be an especially stressful time, a time to be endured rather than celebrated. Whether you are struggling with infertility, dealing with pregnancy or infant loss, or just in a complicated situation. Some people feel like they are barely surviving the holidays, rather than enjoying the holiday season.
There are lots of reasons why the holidays can be tricky: you’re faced with parties and occasions where you’re expected to smile and be cheerful, there are the dreaded questions from relatives about when you’re going to “start a family” already, and then there’s the bittersweet prospect of being surrounded by kids—other people’s kids.
Here are six ways to stay sane.
Take time out for self-care
Running around to stores, intensive meal preparation and tackling flight schedules isn’t really what the holidays should be about. When you’re already dealing with the stress of infertility, it’s important to take time out during this time of the year to do the things you enjoy, whether it’s participating in the annual Jingle Bell Run or putting your feet up and reading Bridget Jones’ Diary. Focus on what feels right, not others’ expectations.
If you’re worried about over-indulging in sweets or drink and regretting it later, make a list of healthy treats for yourself like a special new tea, a scented bubble bath, a magazine you enjoy, a card game or a scroll through your favorite photos from last year’s beach trip.
Say no when you need to
Oh, the power of no. Even Oprah covets it. Turning down invitations to events that don’t thrill you may seem difficult at the moment, but it’s worth it if it helps you maintain your sanity around the holidays. Imagine what would be most kind to your future self when you consider how to RSVP.
Make a new tradition to help with surviving the holidays
Who says you always have to have to do the same thing for the holidays? Now might be the time to begin a new tradition that excites you, such as a ski trip, a game night with your spouse, or a meal out with friends. Spend time with couples who are childfree by choice. You can still connect with your family by joining them the day after the big gathering, or – let’s face it – through the magic of the internet.
Head off awkward moments
Thanks to the “spotlight effect,” it can feel like all eyes and ears are laser-focused on you. When Aunt Susan drops that casual question at dinner: “So when are you two going to have kids?” In reality, while a moment like this can feel awful, it’s likely that nobody else will notice or remember. They’re likely too busy thinking about a second helping of the pumpkin pie.
You can get past these awkward moments by establishing a stock answer. Options include vagaries like “It’ll happen when the time is right,” or a dodge like “Not sure yet. Are you enjoying being a grandparent?” If you want to go with something more direct, say something like, “It’s not that easy for some of us”. Chances are, you won’t be pressed for details. If you are, just say, “It’s a private thing right now.” Now, about that pumpkin pie…
Remember, you don’t owe anyone an explanation. How much you tell someone about your fertility issues is completely up to you.
Talk about it
You don’t have to ignore your stressors in order to have a good time during the holidays. In fact, this can be a good time to talk through the things you’re feeling with your partner, sister, or friend. Get cozy and get honest about why this time of year is hard for you. It may be a relief to get it off your chest. Having a laugh about Aunt Susan’s plans for your ovaries could be very cathartic, too.
Give to others as a way for surviving the holidays
Opportunities to volunteer at the holidays abound. You could organize a food drive for a homeless shelter. Or, build a home for a needy family with Habitat For Humanity. You could host a letter-writing party through More Love Letters. These types of activities, which get your mind off of your own situation. They allow you to give to others, are guaranteed to provide a happiness boost.
The stress of infertility and family planning hurdles can be amplified by the holidays. With a little advance planning, however, you can get through them. You may even start to feel a teeny, tiny bit “merry and bright.”