When will we become parents? Will this current fertility treatment cycle work? What is next in my treatment plan?
These and many other questions may be swirling in your mind when you are trying to grow your family. One of the unique psychological challenges of infertility is that you often can’t help but focus on the future, which of course is unknown, so it can be easy to become disheartened, frustrated, and upset.
Staying Present Is Important
As a therapist, I often work with individuals and couples dealing with the emotional stressors of infertility. In these professional experiences, I find that when patients have trouble staying present, they can become unnecessarily worried. It can catapult you out of realistic thinking. For instance, do you worry about what the next steps in your treatment plan will be before your current cycle is even over?
Do you worry about what the next steps in your treatment plan will be before your current cycle is even over?Not staying present can even throw you backwards. Perhaps you dwell on some prior event that caused you anxiety or emotional pain, like a failed cycle. No matter how much we think about it or worry, we cannot change the past or predict the future. Present-day thoughts, feelings, and events are things that we have the most control over and where it is best to focus our attention.
A mindfulness practice can help you stay focused.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness, in its most basic form, is about keeping your mind on what you are seeing, hearing, feeling, and doing in the present. While conceptually this sounds easy, it can be quite hard to do, especially for those dealing with infertility. You may often feel that your mind goes in many different directions as you deal with acute emotions and stress.
How do you actually stay present and be mindful? Here are some strategies to help you:
1. Notice When Your Mind Wanders
The first step in trying to stay present is being aware of when you are not. Try to notice when your thoughts are drifting back in time or jumping ahead. Make a mental note of when this happens. It is important to acknowledge when you are not being present to increase your overall awareness. Sometimes even saying to yourself “you’re doing it again” can serve as a cue for you to try to keep your mind more in the moment.
2. Let Go and Breathe
Mindfulness guides you to take a stance of non-judgment of what you’re experiencing. Allow that your thoughts and feelings are neither good nor bad; your objective is to accept that they are real and present in this moment.
Present-day thoughts, feelings, and events are things that we have the most control over and where it is best to focus our attention.
Try to avoid getting stuck; have a “Teflon” mind—let thoughts and feelings come into your mind, then let them slide on out.
Taking deep breaths can help as you visualize this. Breath in when the thoughts and feelings hover in your mind then breathe out and then let them go.
3. Describe Your Thoughts and Feelings
If the same thoughts recur or you are particularly distressed, put what you are thinking and feeling into words; you can write it all down or even record it. Start by asking yourself “what” questions. What do you see around you? What thoughts come to mind? What feelings are you aware of? What sensations do you notice in your body?
For example, if you are in the waiting room at your RE’s office, you may be aware of other patients around you. Maybe you are thinking about a new treatment protocol that you would like to discuss with your doctor and feel worried about what that might entail. Maybe you notice that your heart is beating faster due to this worry. Remember though, when asking these “what” questions, try to focus on the here and now.
Being mindful and staying present may not always feel easy to do and takes practice. I encourage you to take it slowly and be patient with yourself. Try to practice mindfulness a few times per week or when you feel that your mind is in a more anxious or worried place. Over time, these skills get easier and can really help you cope as you navigate through your family-building journey.
Carrie Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in private practice in New York City. She specializes in treating individuals and couples dealing with issues related to infertility and building their families. For more information, please go to carriegottlieb.com.
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