12 Coping Skills to Center Yourself through Infertility

sad looking womanIt is natural to feel challenged and overwhelmed by fertility concerns. Receiving an infertility diagnosis is unbelievably hard on the soul, and ongoing treatment cycles can be demanding on the body. Infertility is a major life stressor that affects 11% of women of reproductive age in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Women often report feeling bad about how they handle infertility-related distress, yet an emotional response is normal. If you’re experiencing infertility, you can support yourself by taking steps to manage your stress, calm your mind, and access your strengths. It can be helpful to practice healthy coping skills that will make you feel more balanced through infertility challenges. Try this self-care plan to create a healthy path for your fertility journey.

  1. Practice relaxation. Use your breath as an anchor whenever you notice yourself going into a heightened state of distress. Inhale while you count to five, then exhale through a count to five. Consciously slow down and focus on your breath to calm your nervous system. Find time for daily quiet self-reflection and relaxation.
  2. Increase self-compassion. Infertility is extremely challenging. Be kind to yourself. Remind yourself that this is really hard. Show yourself the same care and concern you would show a friend.
  3. Name your feelings. Acknowledging how you feel can be empowering: I’m feeling (sadness, anxious, frustrated, hopeless, etc.) about this in vitro fertilization cycle. Utilizing this simple statement honors your feelings while containing them, and will keep you from becoming emotionally overwhelmed.
  4. Use a mantra. Find a calming mantra that works for you: I am doing everything I can to become pregnant. So far, so good. I am taking care of myself. I can handle this. I let go of things out of my control.
  5. Be present. All we have is this present moment. Much of our infertility distress is created from past events (I should have …) or future worries (what if …). Focus on the present.
  6. Restructure your thoughts. Our thoughts affect our mood. Learn to challenge unhelpful thoughts to reframe your state of mind: Is there another way of looking at things? Is this thought even true? How will I feel if I believe this thought? Look for rigid, repetitive narratives that only serve to increase distress levels, such as, “I will never have a child.” Instead of immediately tensing up and shutting down, take a breath and move into a place of mindful curiosity and openness to what may happen. Reduce negative self-talk by learning not to immediately label a situation with judgment. Actively focus on what you can change.
  7. Consciously respond vs. automatically react. Once you have a handle on your thoughts, you can consciously choose how to respond to events instead of automatically reacting. Neuroscience has shown through brain plasticity research that it is possible to change our patterns of being. Learn to understand which events or thoughts typically trigger a distress response, and make a commitment to take a few deep breaths and wait before mindfully responding.
  8. Schedule worry time. Do you have difficulty stopping intrusive thoughts about the unfairness of infertility or treatment anxieties? It can be helpful to set a specific time to give energy to these concerns in a contained way. Schedule a set time each day when you will allow yourself up to 10 minutes of worry time to focus on infertility concerns. Set a timer, and afterward make an intention to release your worries and move on with your day.
  9. Increase self-care activities. Create a list of nurturing activities to help self-soothe when feelings become intense. Get up and move around. Talk to a supportive friend. Take five deep breaths. Listen to music. Cook something healthy. Distract yourself by looking for everything in the room that is a certain color. Binge on your favorite TV series. Spend time outside in nature. Have this list ready to go as needed.
  10. Practice gentle exercise. Movement gets you out of your head and into your body. It also allows for a release of any tension held in the body. While there are some restrictions on exercise during treatment cycles, you can generally do some gentle yoga stretches or take a daily walk.
  11. Embrace uncertainty. Uncertainty is a part of life, and a common part of the infertility experience. Accept that even with your best efforts, some things cannot be controlled. Acknowledge early on that nothing is concrete through this journey. Treatment cycles may get canceled. Some attempts may not be successful. Everyone around you may suddenly become pregnant. Surrendering to the unknown allows you to reduce judgment and accept uncertainty.
  12. Honor your boundaries. Create realistic goals and expectations of treatment and reevaluate as needed. Be mindful of not letting the process completely take over your life. Remember, infertility does not have to define you.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Susan Allen, LMFT, therapist in San Francisco, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Marian

    Marian

    July 9th, 2014 at 10:32 AM

    Seems like there are times when I am surrounded by women who don’t seem to want the kids they have and all I want is to be able to have one.
    I have a hard time being around them and not thinking about how selfish they are being and how much I would give to make that happen for me.

  • Chantal H.

    Chantal H.

    July 9th, 2014 at 12:34 PM

    Excellent advice!!

  • Catherine

    Catherine

    July 9th, 2014 at 3:33 PM

    I have always thought that the less you worry about something such as fertility then the less of an issue it becomes. Think that there is any truth to that?

  • Parker

    Parker

    July 10th, 2014 at 11:18 AM

    I know that it has to be a difficult realization for some families, but there are some couples who were not made to have children biologicaly. maybe this is an answer for them that they don’t want to hear but at the same time maybe they have been slated for something much bigger like adopting or finding other ways to utilize the gifts that God wants them to share with children. I don’t know, I have not been in that stuation and I know that it must be heartbreaking for many to realize that this might not be the path that they are being led on, but listen to what God is telling you and I think that when you do that you can come to accept that that you are being given, and that which He is asking that you then give to others.

  • Kim

    Kim

    July 10th, 2014 at 3:36 PM

    Such wonderful advice for dealing with an impossibly overwhelming situation.

  • Esperanza

    Esperanza

    July 10th, 2014 at 8:35 PM

    This is really helpful. Dealing with infertility is such a roller coaster. “Restructure your thoughts” and “schedule worry time” are two that are really hitting home. I often find myself up at night worrying and I think this exercise will really help. Thanks.

  • Leah

    Leah

    July 11th, 2014 at 2:04 PM

    I agree with Esperanza.
    I think that couples who are dealing with this try so hard in everything that they do and they try to be happy for others while at the same time feeling like they have to continually hide their own pain.

  • grant

    grant

    July 12th, 2014 at 6:08 AM

    i think that all of this made my wife feel like we were doing something worng- i don’t know that this is what anyone would say out loud but i know that this is how she would sometimes interpret things- i know, not your fault, it was ours for being so insecure and scared of what our future would look like without the kids we had always envisioned ourselves with, but please be mindful of how your words can be construed when you are talking to someone with infertility issues.

  • Trayson

    Trayson

    July 15th, 2014 at 1:38 PM

    It is so scary to watch someone you love come to the determination that they will not be able to have children and of course you want to be there for them but often there are no right things to say. You worry that the things you do say will be taken the wrong way and that they will become estranged from you as a result. I think that sometimes it is hard for those of us on the outside looking in to know exactly what to do in these situations because we know that there is nothing that we can say or do that will change the fact that infertility is a prt of their lives. You just have to continue to be there to love and support them as they work through it.

  • Emma

    Emma

    October 22nd, 2015 at 11:42 PM

    Thanks for sharing information

  • Anil

    Anil

    October 23rd, 2015 at 4:50 AM

    This is real helpfu, Thanks for sharing

  • lily

    lily

    November 24th, 2015 at 3:12 AM

    Real helpful, thanks you for sharing

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