Finding Your Inner Zen During Infertility
“Just relax, you’ll get pregnant soon, you’re just too stressed out”. Although friends, family and even totally random strangers are trying to show their support during your struggle with infertility, NEVER say this to a couple who is struggling to conceive. Like, EVER!
Although this is the worst thing someone could tell you, there is some truth behind finding your inner zen. Whether I am counseling a couple during preconception counseling or supporting a couple after rounds of failed IVF cycles, I am constantly talking to patients about how to find their inner zen during this VERY chaotic time. I am not saying you need to hide your feelings and tell everyone everything is fine, when clearly you are not fine. But instead, I want to teach you some healthy ways to manage your stress and learn how to create your “good vibes only” bubble during this difficult time. And let’s face it, no one will truly understand the emotional roller coaster you have been stuck on unless they themselves have struggled to conceive. So I hope this post will resonant with you and help you create some much needed inner zen.
Team Work Makes the Dream Work
I can NOT stress this enough. Infertility affects BOTH partners, which means although your hubby may be holding his emotions back because he is trying to support you, he too is struggling. The opposite is also very true. Sometimes as women, we try to quickly pick up all the pieces and keep our focus on the end goal, when really we are embarrassed, ashamed, surprised, scared, anxious and #alltheabove. This is where I want to stress the importance of acknowledging that this process is difficult and BOTH of you need some much needed support. On that note, remember that everyone processes emotions and trauma differently, which is why, I encourage you to talk to your partner about your feelings and allow them the space to express theirs as well. They may not know exactly how to put their feelings into words but make it a goal to show them that you are open to sharing this space and are here when they need you.
It is often helpful to lead by example and show them how you are personally working on managing your stress during this time. Maybe give them some examples of the things you would like to implement and ways they too could get involved. Putting them on the spot and pushing them to share their feelings when they are not ready to do so is not encouraging and will often lead to move distance within your relationship. Instead, encourage them with actions by creating stress management techniques that work for you. Sometimes it may can take your partner a little time to come around but trust me, if you lead by example, they will likely be better equipped to connect with you emotionally and also physically.
Whether you are trying to conceive naturally or require medical assistance, stress matters. In fact, a recent study investigated the effect of stress on fertility treatment success rates. The study contained a group of women that were undergoing fertility treatments and compared it to a controlled group that was comprised of women undergoing other benign laparoscopic gynecological treatments. The study measured bio-markers for stress, including cortisol and Prolactin. The study found that women undergoing fertility treatments had a higher level of stress bio-markers than the women in the controlled group. So although both groups were undergoing the typical stress associated with going to the doctor’s office and undergoing a procedure, those that were undergoing fertility treatments had significantly stronger releases of stress hormones. The release of these stress hormones can affect the success of said fertility treatments. This is why, I highly recommend working on managing your stress TODAY. I often suggest patients include daily meditation and biweekly acupuncture throughout their entire fertility journey.
Customize Your Inner Zen
When it comes to finding your inner zen, make it personal and customize it to your unique needs…and attention. If you have never mediated, for example, forcing yourself to sit in a quiet room for 30 minutes, is probably not going to work for you. And you know what? That’s totally okay. Although, I am a big advocate for meditation and I personally have been using it for years, start slow and ease your way into any new technique you would like to implement. For me, I started with short five minute guided meditations on free apps like Simple Habit or Insight Timer. Slowly as I became more comfortable and consistent with my practice, I began to extend my meditations and really found what worked for me. Even after years of practice, I still don’t have a quiet enough mind to sit in complete silence, so truth is, make it your own.
It is also okay to try out a few different techniques before finding the ones that resonant the best for you. That being said, give yourself at least 7 consistent practices. That means, if you are planning on implementing meditation, for example, make sure to try it for seven consecutive days. If you are planning on implementing acupuncture, try and go to at least 3-4 treatments before making a decision on whether it works for you or not. These technique are not an instant “chill pill”, instead, they take time and part of the healing happens during the process of finding what works for you. Give your body and mind the time it needs to make new connections and to allow yourself the time to reconnect.
If you are struggling with finding creative ways to find your inner zen, I listed a few of my favorite techniques below. These are simply examples and a starting off point for your custom inner zen practice. I challenge you to implement as many as you see fit throughout your day, but remember, try not to overwhelm yourself. Start with one at a time.
Journaling - Five Minute Journal
Counseling - Individual/ Couple/ Group therapy can be a great way to get your emotions out and give your body, mind and spirit the release it is so desperately is in need of.
Podcast- Find a podcast that inspires you. This does NOT need to be a medical podcast that talks about infertility, in fact, I encourage you to find a podcast that makes you laugh or inspires you in other aspects of your life. I, for one, am a huge perfectionist at heart, so I love diving into podcast about organization or interior designs. ( We all have our quirky interests). Feed your soul with inspiration.
Support groups - whether it is a group of close friends or total strangers, finding a group that is currently or has struggled to conceive in the past can be extremely insightful. Please make sure the group you select is positive and uplifting and not a horrible string of Facebook messages that are negative and extremely depressing. Find a group that works for you Can’t find a group that inspires or uplifts you? Make your own, set the rules and invite only people you truly connect with. Remember this group should be therapeutic to you and not another to- do.
Books- Reading can be a great way to set aside time for creating your inner zen. It can also encourage and support you to keep moving forward during this extremely difficult time. One of my favorite books to recommend for couples struggling with infertility and miscarriages is Not Broken: An Approachable Guide to Miscarriage and Recurrent Pregnancy Loss by Lora Shahine.
Exercise- moderate intensity exercise is not only a great way to incorporate stress management techniques, but moderate exercise has also been shown to increase fertility in both males and females. Studies have also concluded that moderate exercise can increase your success with in-vitro fertilization Some of my favorite exercise options include: yoga, Pilates, group fitness classes, walking, swimming and jogging.
Team Building Exercises - Infertility can be an extremely difficult time that can put a strain on your relationship. This is why I encourage you to find ways to reconnect in a positive and fun way. Try a fun date like an “Escape the Room” event or go see a concert you have been dying to see. Make your relationship fun by add a sense of adventure and creativity.
Laughter - Laughter is truly the best medicine. I know that it is common to become completely consumed with your fertility journey and this is totally normal but this can lead to high stress environments that make it even harder to get pregnant. So I encourage you to make time for your daily dose of laughter.
Acupuncture - In my practice, acupuncture is a must. Traditional Chinese Medicine has used the tools of acupuncture for decades to help relieve stress and promote fertility. Never experienced acupuncture? Not really a fan of needles? Worried about how you will relax with needles all of you? Trust me, I have been there. Before I went to medical school, I felt the exact same way. I am high strung as it is and I thought there was no way acupuncture could help me relax. I even thought about this during my first session. As the acupuncturist left the room, I was still believed there was NO WAY this could help. Five minutes in, I started to notice my breath elongate and my thoughts calm. So from one recovering no believer to another, my advice to you is just try it. Like I mentioned earlier, try it a few times before you make any decisions on where it is helpful or not. If after four sessions you do not feel relaxed, or worse, you feel more anxious than before, then yes, at that point you can say acupuncture may not be for you.
Grounding - Connecting to nature in our every day lives is unfortunately something of the past unless we consciously make an effort. We can easily go throughout our day without actually connecting to nature at all. Connecting to nature means talking a walk outside first thing in the morning as the morning sun hits your sweet face. It could means taking your lunch outside and eating at a nearby park. It could means taking off your shoes at the end of the day and walking through the sand or the grass to feel the earth connecting underneath your feet.
So whether you have been struggling for months or struggling for years, managing your stress during your infertility journey is a must.