Monash IVF Counselling Services Manager
Preparing for Christmas Anxiety
The Christmas season is presumed to be a time of joy and celebration. Christmas comes with many expectations as it is often associated with extravagant celebrations, gifts, and happy families. For many people, however, this period is also a time of stress and anxiety.
The Christmas period can be especially difficult for individuals accessing assisted reproductive treatments, such as IVF. This may be due to a number of reasons, such as, Christmas symbolising the end of the year, having to spend time with family members and being surrounded by young children during this joyous time of the year.
If you can relate to the above, you are not alone. While you may not be able to eliminate your feelings of stress and anxiety entirely, you can most definitely develop skills to better manage these feelings. Below are some useful tips to help you through the Christmas season.
1. Identify your triggers
List the things that set off your anxieties at Christmas time. You may find that you start to worry about certain aspects of the festive season such as spending time with a particular family member or seeing all the children in your family.
2. What are your symptoms?
Anxiety is marked by physical (muscle tension, trembling hands heart palpitations, sweating and shortness of breath), psychological (a sense of impending doom, dread and fear of something terrible happening) and cognitive symptoms (unhelpful thoughts). Make note of how anxiety manifests in you. This allows you to identify and in time recognise early signs that you’re becoming anxious.
3. When you are distressed what do YOU need?
Think back to other times when you have felt anxious and stressed and think about what you needed at that time. For example, some people like to have family and friends around them whereas others prefer the privacy of their own company. Do you need to spend more time with others or with your partner? Do you need more attention, affection, and love? Do you need someone to talk to? Do you need someone or something to distract you?
4. Repeat and compare steps 3 and 4 with your partner or a support person
What are the similarities? What are the differences?
This process provides you with a greater insight into your anxiety. There may be signs that you’re not noticing. Your partner or support person may not be aware of the support you need.
5. Prepare a plan of action
Once you’ve identified your triggers and are aware of signs that indicate you’re anxious, work out what you and your support person can do to help manage your anxieties. Reflect on strategies that have helped you manage stressful events in the past.
It is also helpful to discuss and rehearse a plan of action before an event, so that if a situation becomes difficult you both know what you need to do.
Possible action plans:
- If attending an event is too difficult inform the host and arrange to go for only a short period of time. For instance: turn up for coffee and dessert rather than the whole day.
- Be present but avoidant, that is, be that really helpful guest who assists with clearing the dishes and washing up. This will get you out of participating in intimate conversations.
- Agree on a “code word” with your partner, which can be used if things become tricky and you need to leave.
It is also helpful to prepare responses to pregnancy related questions to avoid being put on the spot. Below is a list of possible responses:
Possible come back phrases to difficult questions:
Shutting down the conversation:
- That is a really good question. I wish I knew the answer.
- Sometimes these things take longer than expected. I hope one day soon
- I am not sure. It is something we are still figuring out.
- When the time is right, it will happen.
- When we are ready.
- The answer to that question is really not in our hands.
- Why would you ask such a personal question?
- That is a really personal question. Some people have a hard time getting pregnant and questions like this can make them feel bad about their situation.
- Having a child is one of the most important decisions in life, and making that decision takes a lot of time and thought. I can’t give you a simple answer to such a big, life changing event.
- I already have one. (Then refer to your spouse or someone else).
- I don’t know but I am starting a list of baby-sitters now. Can I count you in?
- Can I get back to you? How soon do you need to know?
6. Distraction techniques
A good way to keep anxiety contained is to keep busy. Some people find various kinds of activities helpful in distracting them from worrying thoughts. Some people find it helpful to engage in some of the following activities:
- Low impact exercise
- Going for a drive
- Listening to music
- Cooking or baking
Mindfulness is a means to be present in the current moment and is an effective means to manage anxiety. If you are not familiar with this practice, the Smiling Mind website and phone application is a good place to start – https://smilingmind.com.au/
7. Something to look forward to
It can also be helpful to have positive activities planned ahead of time to coincide with difficult periods. First, this gives you something pleasant to look forward to, and second, if it is planned in advance, you are more likely to commit to it. Examples of positive activities include: massage, movie, visiting friends, going away for a weekend or night, and dinner with friends at your favourite restaurant.
8. Broaden your support networks
The IVF experience is an extremely challenging one for couples because it impacts you both at the same time. You will each have different styles of coping and sometimes this can cause conflict. This can be helpful in that your partner may be able to help you see things from a different perspective. It can also cause conflict, especially when you are both reacting to the same situation at the same time. If one wants to talk and the other needs to withdraw – you have a problem, and conflict can occur.
At times like this it can be helpful to seek the support of others who are close to you such as family and friends. Sometimes this may not be possible so other support networks such as local IVF support groups or online forums can be a great source of comfort and inspiration.
9. Monash IVF Counselling Service
Counselling at Monash IVF is a valuable resource; we are a team of psychologists and social workers trained in infertility counselling. For those in regional areas, telephone counselling is available and where more intensive counselling is required we can refer you to a psychologist in your local area for private counselling.
Things to remember:
- Anxiety is a normal reaction when undergoing IVF.
- Everyone finds Christmas and family events difficult.
- You will not be able to completely get rid of all of your anxiety but you can become a lot better at managing it.
- Maintain realistic expectations.
- Build up your own special recipe book of useful anxiety management strategies.
- If IVF treatment doesn’t work, expect to feel rotten. It is a normal response part of the grief process and can be very distressing. With time and support however, it will ease.
- You don’t have to wait until a crisis occurs to access counselling. Many people find it helpful to come before they experience any distress to learn new coping strategies and plan how they might manage their treatment cycle.
If you have tried these “tips” and find that the anxiety is still a problem for you, please don’t hesitate to contact one of the counsellors so that they can help you to develop an individualised anxiety management program, focused on your specific needs.
Rita Alesi is the Monash IVF Counselling Services Manager, a Counselling Psychologist with 20 years’ experience in IVF, Donor and Surrogacy related counselling. For more information about counselling services at Monash IVF please contact 1800 628 533.