Emotional Health 101 Taster
We’ve developed this twelve week emotional wellbeing programme so you can feel more confident, supported and calm during your fertility journey. Here’s a note from our founder Lina and a week as a taster!
A note from our founder, Lina.
The decision to start trying for a baby is an important and big decision. When I first embarked on this journey I had no idea what I was going to face, and how much it would affect me both physically and emotionally. Looking back today, I am very grateful for the experience, both the positive and the negative, as it’s shaped who I am and given me strength and resilience that I never imagined I would have.
But looking back, I also wish I had known how important it is to be aware of your emotional health – how to identify signs that things are not going well and what are techniques and resources that may help. What I realise now, is that if I had addressed the emotional challenges that I faced sooner, it would have provided me with resilience on my journey, helped me to navigate challenges and lead to potentially better outcomes.
Why is your emotional health so important during this time? One in seven couples will struggle with infertility. It is very common for women who struggle with infertility to feel lonely, vulnerable, blame themselves and feel ashamed. I know I felt all of these things, sometimes on a daily basis! These feelings, when they are constant, will affect your relationship with yourself and others. My confidence plummeted and it impacted my relationship with my husband, friends and family.
Why is this journey so hard? Up until this stage of my life, I was used to having a plan, putting effort towards that plan, and I knew that if I “worked” on it, I would achieve my goal. With conception and pregnancy all that certainty goes out the window. You realise you have absolutely no control and you need to re-learn how to deal with your goals and challenges. Not to mention the many triggers of negative emotions during this phase: the period every month that reminds you that you didn’t conceive, the pregnant woman on the tube, the friend that got pregnant easily, the baby on the magazine cover, and the list can go on…
Taking care of our emotional health is really important during this phase. Not only because you will most likely be on an emotional roller coaster, but it’s also because this phase is one in which you will lay the foundation for your future family. You relationship with yourself, your partner, family and friends will all change. To create strong healthy families it’s important to take care of your emotional health and build strong and resilient relationships from the start.
Transitions mean change, and this change may mean you feel vulnerable in unexpected ways. But it is also an opportunity for positive change. A time to assess your physical and emotional health and think about what changes you might want to make to improve your health. We will guide you through these changes, and provide support on your journey.
We will empower you to better understand your emotional health, develop skills to improve your emotional health (including mindfulness, relaxation and coping skills) and build healthy relationships.
We’ve designed this 12 week programme for you, which will guide you through understanding your emotional health and learning the skills to improve it. We suggest you set aside a time each week that you can follow the programme. It’s designed to be done alongside the mindfulness meditations, so keep using the meditations each month in time with the rhythm of your natural cycle.
I hope you enjoy learning more and find it useful – if you have any questions, always feel free to reach out to your Adia coach or any of our experts.
Sample week: Learning to cope with uncertainty and letting go of control
“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.” ~John Allen Paulos
Trying to have a baby is a time of major uncertainty. You may have never have thought or considered that there might be problems, or that it might be an experience that you would not be able to control. For many people this can be hardest part of their fertility journey – particularly if they are used to being in control and achieving their goals when they set their mind to it. This can be very uncomfortable for people and understandably lead to anxiety.
Annoyingly, the reality is that it is not possible to create a controllable, predictable life for yourself forever – as nothing stays the same forever. Life is not likely to ever pan out exactly how you planned it in your head – and in fact the only constant is that life will involve change, and try as you may to control the future, sometimes all you can do is trust that whatever happens, you can adapt and make the best of it.
This overwhelming and uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty can keep you up at night, it can get you thinking over and over how to neutralise it and how to protect yourself from anything that might go wrong. All this energy pre-occupying your mind and your body is exhausting.
Learning to cope with uncertainty and letting go of control is a skill – and the good news is that with practice it can be learnt. What you’re facing in your fertility journey might not be easy but what is certain is that it is ahead of you, and what you can control is how you respond to it, how you learn from it, and how it can motivate you to practice acceptance, and live in the moment – and that you can cope.
Here are some tips to help you learn to cope with uncertainty and let go of control:
- Try to manage your expectations and relax your black and white thinking. When you form high (or low), very clear or specific expectations, you’re likely setting yourself up for disappointment. Reset your expectations to focus on the here and now – and try to find the shades of grey between the best and worst possible outcomes. If you expect the worst, you’ll probably feel too negative and closed-minded to notice and seize opportunities. If you expect the best, you’ll create a vision that’s hard to live up to. Instead of expecting the future to give you something specific, focus on what you’ll do to create what you want to experience – that is likely to be somewhere in between.
- Stop and name thoughts and feelings before they spiral. For many people trying to have a baby, it isn’t the uncertainty that bothers them; it’s the strong, all-consuming thoughts and feelings that go alongside the loss of control. Usually these feelings center around fear and are partnered with circular repetitive thoughts such as “This cycle won’t work”, which leads to “How will I cope if it doesn’t work again?” Before you know it, you’ve somehow travelled all the way to “I will have a breakdown, not being able to work, my partner will leave me and I will be all alone.” This is called catastrophic thinking. Negative thoughts about the future lead to more negative feelings which can lead to more ‘fortune-telling’ about negative possibilities in the future and then more strong feelings. It is a vicious and ultimately unhelpful cycle. To try to stop this cycle, try to recognize the feeling—in this case, fear—and then remind yourself: “I can’t possibly predict the future, but I can help create it by fostering positive feelings about the possibilities.”
- Focus on what you can control. Often, we overlook the little things we can do to make life easier while obsessing about the big things we can’t do. For example, my boyfriend and I are cramped in a small space with little storage. My clothes are in bags spaced throughout the room, like some kind of luggage booby trap. At times I’ve gotten really frustrated with the chaos, since I feel like I don’t know where anything is, and I’ve complained about wanting to move. Then suddenly, it dawned on me: moving now just isn’t an option, but I can make this living situation more bearable if I stop complaining and focus on a short-term solution. So I asked my boyfriend to help me organize the space and keep it that way, and now I feel a lot less scattered.
- Believe in your resilience. When we are feeling negative it is easy to forget that we can handle difficult situations and in fact if the worst did happen we would likely be able to cope. Julie K. Norem proposed the idea of defensive pessimism—the idea that you should consider the worst case outcome so that you can plan how you’d handle it. This has actually been shown to help people manage anxiety and feel more in control. This is not the same as ruminating on ‘what if the worst happened?’ and imagining how you would not cope but instead thinking in real terms about how you would cope.
- Practice active relaxation techniques. If you’re dealing with uncertainty and feeling out of control, you are probably holding on to stress in your body. Over time, that body stress will build up and affect back pain, headaches, blood pressure, muscle tension, cholesterol level, breathing rate, and every organ in your body. Try to practice muscle relaxation techniques to notice where you are holding this stress in your body and practice letting it go (see the module above with example active relaxation exercises). The more you do this, the more you will notice that there are certain areas of your body that become tense – and this increased awareness will help you to relax those areas before tension is allowed to be built up. Look out for unusual areas such as the jaw, forehead and bottom where lots of tension is stored but people are rarely aware of.
- Practice mindfulness. There is a famous quote in Kung Fu Panda (the animated movie) when the sage Master Ooogway says to Kung Fu Panda when is wanting to give up on his Kung Fu career – “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift… that’s why they call it the present.” When your mind is obsessed about a past and future you can’t control, you’re too busy judging what has gone before and what hasn’t happened yet to fully experience what’s happening right now. Instead of noticing and appreciating this moment, you get trapped in a fear-driven thought cycle about the potential for discomfort down the line. Accepting that you cannot always control what is going to happen tomorrow and that that doesn’t have to be a bad thing means you can spend today doing other things that you love, like spending time with valued friends and family, listening to music, reading, gardening and eating good food. Practicing mindfulness and connecting with the present moment can help people develop a different relationship with the all-consuming circular thoughts – and make different choice so that they can do more of the activities they love. Grounding yourself in the present moment by connecting to your senses – what you can see, smell, hear, feel and taste is a really helpful way to start to introduce mindfulness into your life. Notice when you wind wonders back to past or future thoughts and come back to the sensory experience you are focusing on in this moment. Practicing mindfulness is not all about just deep breathing in silence for prolonged periods of time – it is about developing a skill to be in the present moment without judgement. See some of our practical mindfulness meditations for more information in how to integrate mindfulness into your daily life – even if it is a very busy one.