How do I get through the holidays? A psychologist’s survival guide (think boundaries and self-compassion)

Jessie Day, in partnership with TFP Fertility  |   19 Dec 2023

Whether it’s Christmas, a long, calendar-stacked winter or holiday season in general, this time of year is a lot. A whole lot. 

Speaking from personal experience – I had a miscarriage over Christmas, a few years ago now – I identify viscerally with the pain and frustration this time of year can bring. Not to mention the added anxiety of socialising alongside treatment, and navigating at-best kindly-meant enquiries and, at-worst, deeply thoughtless conversations. 

A holiday season survival guide

I remember thinking, there should be some sort of survival guide for this. Something I googled, at the time, but didn’t find much which ‘got’ the situation, or told me anything new. Fast-forward to this Christmas, we’re in the expert hands of practitioner Dr. Marie PrinceThe Fertility Psychologist – consultant clinical psychologist with TFP Fertility

Team TFP Fertility bring world-leading practice and expertise to a UK-wide clinic network, opening up localised access to exceptional fertility care, wherever you’re based. For many, this includes expert counselling and psychological support. 

Catch our in-depth chat with Marie on IVF stress, coping techniques and thought reframers, and save today’s tips below, ready for that Thursday night work drinks save-the-date, or family Twixtmas knees-up. 

You’ve got this. Bring it on. 

Could you tell us a little more about your role?

Absolutely. My job is to: 

  • optimise patients’ physical and mental health to enable them to manage their fertility journey
  • support patients at all stages of the process
  • provide psychological treatment to manage distress, loss and trauma, where required

All TFP Fertility UK counsellors and psychologists also offer implications counselling, for anyone considering treatment with donor gametes or a surrogate. I work in-clinic with TFP Fertility, and you can also find me as the Fertility Psychologist here.

how do I keep hope during infertility

Why is Christmas so difficult for me right now?

Christmas is literally about celebrating the birth of a baby, the connection that surrounds family and supposedly a time of joy and love. 

So many Christmas traditions are centred around children, and when not centred on children they are often focussed on social occasions that involve alcohol and indulgent food. 

This can feel very triggering when you’re trying to conceive (TTC), when you can see others celebrating what you yourself are working so hard to create – a baby or child and family life – and when you may be trying to manage a healthy diet and lifestyle. 

Let’s talk groundwork – how can people prepare for navigating the holidays?

I think this is really important, and I encourage my clients to consider what they want and need. 

Unfortunately, many people put the needs of others before themselves, assuming that to meet their own needs is being selfish or rude. However, finding yourself in uncomfortable and distressing situations will certainly impact how you feel, and may lead to resentment – and often withdrawal from – occasions that could be a source of fun or support. 

The good thing about this is that you get to control your boundaries. Think about the questions you don’t like being asked or the people that you find it difficult to be around. Ask yourself what you need in that situation, and then – most importantly – tell people what you need. 

For example, you are allowed to ask for support, or clearly tell people that your fertility is not up for discussion. You are even allowed to say no – perhaps you do not want to uphold the same traditions this year.

Are there any ‘classic’ situations to prepare for?

What questions do you dread being asked or find triggering?

Common situations I see and support clients with are: 

  • being asked directly about your family plans
  • why you’re not drinking alcohol 
  • whether you have a partner ‘yet’

If you can predict the types of questions you may find difficult to answer, you can think about how you want to manage it. 

There is no correct way to manage any of these questions – the best way is your way. Think about what you do and do not want to share with other people. 

Also, remember that if other people don’t know you’re struggling, they’re more likely to ask questions that trigger you without even knowing they’ve upset you.

IVF emotional side effects

I’m struggling with the emotional side effects – what can I do?

TTC can feel heavy, and I really encourage you to think about what you need to do to process the emotional side effects of IVF and a fertility struggle. It can be very tempting to avoid our distressing emotions, perhaps by numbing out with social media or keeping busy, for example.  

However, distress builds in our heart, mind and body if not processed, and it takes so much energy to keep avoiding emotion. 

There are so many science-backed strategies to help you process and engage with your emotion, and self regulate. My top strategies involve:

  • connection with people
  • nurturing your body
  • journaling
  • meditation 
  • practicing gratitude

On occasion, our distress will be too great to manage on our own and we may require professional support and therapy. I encourage you to build your own toolkit and seek the support you need.

I’m feeling strong – how do I keep hope during infertility?

True hope is trusting you will be ok, and choosing to focus on what makes you feel good and helps you move towards your goal. However, false hope may feel inauthentic or minimise your struggle. 

So often we focus on what we do not have and the obstacles, rather than what we do want. Staying connected to what we want and what we’re doing to try and get there can help us feel hopeful, and tolerate the stress of the process. 

If you find other people’s ‘false hope’ difficult to manage, kindly tell them that, tell them that it does not help and then tell them what does help you, perhaps a listening ear or validation of how you are feeling

Marie’s Christmas survival guide, in 5 steps

As we move into, through and past Christmas and the holidays, my top tips are: 

  1. Get clear about your own needs 
  2. Prioritise those needs! 
  3. Get clear about your boundaries – what is and is not ok for you?
  4. Create your own fun and traditions – what would be free, and easy?
  5. Self-compassion – drop the self-criticism and turn up the self-love

We couldn’t agree more. Need experienced support today? Connect with TFP Fertility online, or in a virtual session.

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