We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we actually hear the nitty-gritty details of how we might actually achieve those things? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a licensed sex psychotherapist based in San Francisco, to help us out with the specifics. This week’s topic: How to stop stress from killing your sex drive.
Q: The holidays are always a hard time for me, between trying to get everything taken care of at work, travel, having to see my family, and seasonal blues. Whenever I get stressed, my sex drive completely disappears. My boyfriend is an understanding guy in general, but he gets frustrated that I get so disinterested in sex. It’s hard for me too — it feels like a part of me is just gone. How can I keep stress from ruining my libido?
A: You’re absolutely not alone in feeling holiday frustration! Lack of desire is the most common complaint I hear around this time of the year. Even people who love the holidays tend to feel rather sexless for most of December.
Sexual desire is a complex topic, but there are plenty of approaches to try. Here are the ones that my clients like the most:
With so much commercialized focus on getting gifts for every single special person in your life, it can be incredibly easy to forget about yourself during the holidays. It’s also harder logistically, if you’re spending lots of time traveling or in other people’s homes. And it can be a burden financially, if you’re already stretched thin trying to buy presents.
All that being said, this is the most important time of the year to prioritize self-care. If you can send yourself the message that you deserve to be taken care of (or even pampered!) you will feel a difference in your sex life.
If you have the resources, book a therapy appointment, a massage, a personal training session, or a music lesson. But keep in mind that you can be kind to yourself even without a ton of time, space, or money. Go on a walk every morning when you’re at your parents’ house. Take a five minute break from wrapping presents to dance to your favorite song. Listen to a guided meditation on YouTube. Try to do something small for yourself every day.
Whatever it is that you’re able to do, tell yourself in the moment, “I am doing (fill in the blank) to take care of myself.” It’s vital to take this extra time to be mindful of what you’re doing, and it will make that activity so much more meaningful. It’s actually not what you do for yourself, but how you do it that matters most.
CREATE A COMING-HOME RITUAL
This is a suggestion that I give to my clients at any time of the year. When you’ve spent your entire day stressed out at work, it can be hard to come home and not bring all of that craziness with you. I suggest creating a ritual around leaving work at work, and coming back home to your personal space.
Here are some ideas for potential rituals:
Light a candle as soon as you get home and take a few minutes to smell the aroma
Do 10 minutes of stretching or yoga
Make yourself a pot of tea
Put on your coziest pajamas
Close your bedroom door and lie down in the dark
These are all things that you might already be doing, but again, the key is adding that extra little dose of awareness. You want to be mindful of the fact that you’re doing this activity for a reason. Tell yourself in the moment, “I’m doing this to leave work behind, and transition into being in my home.”
DECOMPRESS ON YOUR OWN
Part of your coming-home routine or self-care ritual should involve alone time. Even if you consider yourself an extrovert, it’s still helpful to have some privacy when trying to shake off life stress. As little as ten minutes will go a long way. When you’re alone, ask yourself, “how am I doing right now?” or “what do I need?”
Taking this time to be alone can be hard when you’re in a relationship, especially if you live together. You’ve both been busy all day long, and you’ve been looking forward to getting home and being together. There’s a natural tendency to immediately jump into venting about your respective days. It’s easy to become overly reliant on each other for emotional support, and to stop prioritizing taking care of yourselves.
It may help to tell your boyfriend, “I want to try this new thing where I give myself a few minutes alone to try to shake off the seasonal stress. I don’t want to come home and bombard you with all of my problems, so I’m thinking about closing myself in the bedroom and writing in my journal for 15 minutes. I think it will help me be much more present with you, and will improve my mood. How do you feel about that?”
CREATE STRUCTURED COUPLES' TIME
Relationships can really suffer around this time of the year. Even if the stress didn’t kill your sex drive, there are so many other disruptions. You may be spending the holidays apart, or outside of your own homes. You may have to work through the holidays. Or you just may not feel that turned on when there are Santa suits everywhere you look.
For all those reasons and more, it’s helpful to try to schedule in some quality time together. Look through your calendars and pick a few date nights. Or try to spend 20 minutes every day naked in bed without any distractions. Lots of people are resistant to the idea of scheduling date nights or sex nights because they want their sex lives to feel spontaneous, but spontaneity is just so, so hard at this time of the year. Let me put it this way — you’re not going to want sex if you don’t even have the opportunity to be intimate. Which brings us to...
PAY ATTENTION TO SENSUALITY
There are a ton of different factors that influence your sex drive, but one of the best ways to feel more desire is to make an effort to tune in to your sensuality on a regular basis. There are opportunities to feel pleasure with almost everything you do.
Even if you’re only able to do this once a day, try staying present during one of your daily activities. Don’t do anything other than that single activity, and try to pay attention to all of the little nuances and sensations. If you’re brushing your hair, try to feel the brush gently scratching your scalp. Feel the bristles slipping through your hair. Feel the weight of the brush in your hand.
Another fun way to approach this is by taking the time to ask yourself, “what could I do to make this activity even more pleasurable?” Allow yourself to do any tiny little thing that might make the process more enjoyable. If you’re taking a shower, it might be nice to take an extra minute to close your eyes and just stand under the hot water. If you’re cooking dinner, it might feel good to turn off the lights and cook by candlelight. This one question is a simple but effective reminder that experiencing pleasure is important.
CUT YOURSELF SOME SLACK
The bottom line is that this is a hard time of year for most people. Don’t create added pressure on yourself to be a perfect sex goddess when you’re struggling just to make it through the day.
Be upfront about your feelings with your boyfriend, and try to brainstorm together some ideas for how the two of you might be able to get your sex life back on track in the new year. Say something like this: “I know it bums you out that I’m so disconnected during this time of the year. It sucks for me too. I feel that part of myself missing. I’m trying to take some steps to do things differently this year, but I also know that it’s hard for me. What if we were to schedule a romantic getaway, just the two of us, the weekend after New Years?”
Most of all, take care of yourself!
Images: FOX; Giphy