The Recipe for an Emotionally Healthy Thanksgiving When You’re Trying to Conceive

For women trying to conceive, Thanksgiving dinner can come with an unfortunately common side dish: devastation. The recipe for this dish calls for maximum psychological vulnerability (garden variety family conflict is a strong start), then add a heaping of internal strain from your fertility struggles, whip in judgments and expectations, then sprinkle on the physical toll of hormones, medications and procedures. It’s a recipe for a perfect holiday meltdown (serving size, one woman).

This year, spare yourself the second helping of guilt and shame, and instead, indulge in the delicacy of self-care. Fertility issues can heighten the stress around this holiday, but the more emotional baggage you bring to the party, the harder it will be to maintain your mental wellness. Even in good circumstances, it can be a fraught time of year, so don’t be surprised if your regular cognitive defenses are no longer as reliable. Regardless of where you find yourself in your fertility journey, you can make the most of Thanksgiving by gobbling up these four holiday helpers to set yourself up for success:

Go cold turkey on guilt
You do not have to participate in every holiday tradition and you do not have to feel guilty about it. Give yourself a pass on the shame. You are going through a tough time and it is critical to take care of yourself. Pushing yourself to partake in emotionally exhausting activities is only going to deplete your emotional bandwidth. If catching up with your estranged friends and their kids is going to leave you feeling depressed, then cancel it – no explanation needed. These fertility-fueled feelings of sadness and frustration are real and valid, however they are not going to last forever. Remind yourself that next year, you can resume the annual activities, but for now, don’t go and don’t worry about it.

Don’t burn the sweet potatoes
Logic dictates that when the timer dings, you take the sweet potatoes out of the oven. During this Thanksgiving weekend, you need to be your own emotional oven timer, and respect your limits so you do not get mentally burned. Think about your triggers in advance, whether it is seeing specific people, or engaging in conversations, the goal is to clarify what is going to cause you distress. Then, pregame a plan to manage this heightened response. Decide if you should accept, challenge it, or avoid the stressor. Giving yourself options (and the option to opt-out) can decrease your anxiety and help you protect your feelings, so you can spend the night focusing on your food, not your rage.

This year, spare yourself the second helping of guilt and shame, and instead, indulge in the delicacy of self-care.

Shellfish, not Selfish
There is nothing selfish about carving out time for self-care whether you’re trying to conceive, pregnant, or a new mom. It is not constructive to try to repress your feelings and pretend “everything is fine.” Instead, identify activities that elicit joy and introduce them as new holiday traditions. Consider fishing, shopping, or exercising, and whether you crave solitude or company. Make decisions that address your genuine interests, because it will increase your feelings of self-worth and validate your authentic needs.

Feast on Gratitude
Thanksgiving has a particular proclivity towards gratefulness. Turns out the pilgrims were onto something when they created a holiday to celebrate their bounty. Identifying and expressing gratitude allows you to connect to something larger than yourself. Research shows that the residual positive effects of gratefulness can increase happiness, strengthen optimism and intensify resilience. It can also help you emotionally defend against unpleasant experiences and grief.  Start off your Thanksgiving morning by identifying three things for which you are grateful (ex: people, nature, food etc.). Then state them aloud or write them on a note card. Gratitude can be experienced in a myriad of different ways, so seek out unique ways of expressing your appreciation throughout the day.

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