Fertility Thinking – creating positive change to lower stress and improve mood
Managing infertility problems can challenge even the most optimistic of minds! When faced with fertility difficulties, dreams of a hoped for child can transform into feelings of pressure with each passing month. It is the uncertainty of how long it will take and what you will need to ensure physically, psychologically and financially that leads to increasing levels of distress.
Taking care of your mind health provides you with the much needed resilience and self-kindness that will see you through. It also contributes positively to your decision making process and how you manage treatment.
CBT for fertility related problems supports you to identify the problem thinking styles and understand their emotional response e.g. harsh self-dialogue full of self-blame leads to increased stress, sleep disturbance and irritability. It can also lead to strained relationships with family and friends.
By becoming aware of your internal dialogue in triggering situations, you can begin to challenge and change the unhelpful thinking patterns and find a more self-supportive internal dialogue. This has also been shown to change how we feel.
Watch out for the following ways of thinking which increase feelings of distress:
• Catastrophising – the language we use when we are in this thinking style contributes to stress and anxiety; “It’s always’s going to be like this”. It usually jumps quickly to the worst case scenario, “IVF only ever works for other people, it will never work for us”.
• Fortune Telling – In fortune telling, we assume that we know our future and it usually ends badly! “If this does not happen for me, my partner will leave me.”
• Mind Reading – Like fortune telling, mind reading is not an ability that we generally possess. However, in times of stress, we can believe that we will know how everyone will respond. Fortune telling usually doesn’t offer an alternative perspective.
• Over focusing on the negative and not acknowledging the positive – “Nothing good happens to us” etc. It is important to write about all the areas of your life – friendships, career, relationship with partner, health and hobbies/interests, spiritual self and acknowledge what is working to resource yourself in the present. Write down 3 things daily that you’re grateful for or did well.
• Believing your “shoulds” – the tyranny of shoulds can be constant particularly if you discover that you need treatment you weren’t expecting. “This should not be happening”, “I should have known this sooner and acted on planning a family ten years ago”. Shoulds are usually demands we make of ourselves without first exploring why we may have chosen a route, e.g. “I did not know I had a fertility related problem until now and I can only make a choice to treat something I know I have.”
• Blaming – the fertility road can be smooth and bumpy at times. Try not to get caught in the blame game. This can be very subtle but can
cause us to feel even more depressed; “it’s my fault, if I hadn’t worked
through my last cycle it would have worked, I was too busy, I’m to blame for all of this.” The frustration can also be projected onto our partner; “why isn’t he feeling the way I do?” or “it’s her fault anyway and now she can’t cope with it, why should I deal with this.” It is so important to let go of this way of thinking as it can quickly erode self-confidence and damage your relationship.
Use Supportive Self-Statements
When you notice that every event associated with fertility is beginning to be interpreted negatively, keep a note in your journal. Notice what thoughts and feelings arise in different situations. If they fit into any of the unhealthy thinking styles above, begin to challenge them and let them go.
This can also be helped using positive self-statements. No-one ever ran a marathon by telling themselves off at the starting line! You could try some of the following;
• I (and we) are doing all we can to support ourselves in our desire to have a baby. We are courageous and I will support myself and eachother in this.
• I have gone through similar tests and have managed. My fears are thoughts not facts, I am strong and can manage this test.
• Keep going (e.g. taking medication or needles etc). This is only temporary and it is worth it. This short term discomfort is for my longer term goal.
• I am a worthwhile person and can show kindness to myself during this time.
• I can bring balance to my feelings and my thoughts and support myself with wise decisions.
• Well done! I have faced a fearful experience and managed it. I will reward myself with a nurturing event or act of kindness.
You can also add some of your own…
Bringing Mindfulness to your Thoughts
Instead of becoming pre-occupied with what are thoughts are telling us and often reacting from, rather than reflecting on the content, we can become more aware of our thinking nature with mindfulness. Rather than becoming swept away with thoughts and inner stories about what we are experiencing e.g. “this is absolutely awful, I can’t cope with doing another test.” We observe the fear, without being swept away emotionally by it, observing the thoughts as just that – thoughts not facts. This leads to a greater inner calmness and clarity of mind.
Ann Bracken is an accredited (AMBICA, AMIACP) Online Fertility Counsellor & Author (Mind, Body, Baby – Hodder & Staughton)
Ann provides Fertility Mind-Body Health Coaching via Skype/FaceTime & Telephone.
She is also a qualified Mindfulness Yoga Teacher & Nutritional Therapist.
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