The year that never seems to end.
I told a patient yesterday that in my 33-year career, I have never seen so many patients tell me that they have simply hit the wall. Infertility alone was overwhelming, but add the pandemic, the election chaos, and all the other tragedies of this year and it is not surprising at all that individuals and couples experiencing infertility feel like curling up in a ball in an effort to block out the world.
So if you are feeling anxious and sad and frantic and lonely, which is basically what all my patients are reporting to me, not only are you not alone but I want to reassure you that there are in fact things which you can do to help yourself feel better.
Physical Coping Strategies
- Practice “mini” relaxations whenever you feel stressed. A mini relaxation is simply taking a series of slow deep breathes. You can count down from 10 to 1, one number for each breath. Or as you inhale, count slowly from 1 to 4, and as you exhale, could down from 4 to 1.
- Start some kind of regular relaxation practice. Relaxation has two benefits- you will feel more relaxed and less anxious for at least part of the time, and once you get into a regular relaxation routine, you will actually feel better throughout the day, which is called the carry-over effect. Easiest way is to use an app such as Calm, Insight Timer or Headspace. There are thousands of different techniques and keep trying different ones until you find one you like.
- Exercise: It is the best stress reducer there is. Moderate exercise is associated with the highest fertility so take a walk, go for a swim, do yoga, go for a gentle hike. These days it is so important to get outside, get some sun on your face, and fresh air.
Psychological Coping Strategies
- Social support: Loneliness is one of the biggest stressors for our patients. Infertility by itself can create such feelings of isolation with everyone you know seemingly getting pregnant effortlessly. But add a pandemic to the mix and feeling so isolated can feel excruciating. Try to schedule zoom catch-ups with friends and family who are supportive of you, join an online support group (either the mind/body group offered at BIVF or a Resolve support group). Join other online support communities around other passions of yours such as quilting, reading, baking, or making wine.
- Journal: Research has shown that writing about your thoughts and feelings can help you process and let go of past hurts and resentments. Simply writing for 20 minutes a day for four days can have a significant positive impact on your mental and physical health.
- Keep a gratitude journal: It may not feel as if you have anything to feel grateful for but after talking to a patient of mine yesterday who is a physician in an ICU in one of the Boston hospitals, it really hit me how grateful we should all be for what we do have, rather than focusing on all the things we have lost because of the pandemic. Simply keep a notebook by your bed and before you go to sleep, jot down anything that happened that day that you are grateful for. A snuggle with your dog, watching a funny movie with your partner, eating a really good piece of chocolate, a beautiful sunset. Yesterday my highlight was this absolutely amazing cinnamon raisin English muffin sold at Verrill Farm.
2020 will end and hopefully 2021 will bring with it effective and safe vaccines for everyone, which will allow us all to safely return to our normal lives. But in the meantime, you need to take really good care of yourself, allow yourself to feel sad when you need to, but remember that when you feel ready to do something to help yourself feel better, there are so many ways which will help you get back to your normal self.
Ali Domar, PhD.
The Domar Center for Mind/Body Health at Boston IVF