It 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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