What is mindfulness and how can it help me get pregnant?? Mindfulness is such a buzz word these days that fortunately and unfortunately the term is thrown around liberally. Fortunately, this means that the benefits of mindfulness are becoming more widely accepted. Unfortunately, the term is so watered down that often people do not have an accurate concept about what mindfulness means. We are told to be mindful but not actually taught how to be mindful. What mindfulness truly means is noticing the present moment and the thoughts and feelings associated with the present moment and choosing to attend to those things instead of past sadness or future worry.
She is wonderful and provides some very helpful information and tips to help you navigate the emotional stressors of fertility issues in her article below.
What is mindfulness?
Kendra Doukas, MS, LMFT
Assistant Director of The Catalyst Center
Struggling with fertility can be painstaking, demoralizing, and frustrating. Mindfulness during the fertility process is important, but let’s first talk about what mindfulness actually means. Mindfulness is such a buzz word these days that fortunately and unfortunately the term is thrown around liberally. Fortunately, this means that the benefits of mindfulness are becoming more widely accepted. Unfortunately, the term is so watered down that often people do not have an accurate concept about what mindfulness means. We are told to be mindful but not actually taught how to be mindful. What mindfulness truly means is noticing the present moment and the thoughts and feelings associated with the present moment and choosing to attend to those things instead of past sadness or future worry. Depression is linked with ruminating in the past and anxiety is linked to future worry. We commonly vacillate between past and present without spending time in “the here and now.” Mindfulness forces us to attend to the present which is important because the present is the only place during which we have control of our behavior can affect change. We cannot change our pasts or predict our future, but we can choose to behave in way that brings meaning to our lives when operating from the present. Mindfulness is also important because it helps is managing stress and keeping the system in the parasympathetic (rest and digest) versus sympathetic (fight/flight/freeze) nervous system. We know that stress negatively affects fertility because fertility is a non-essential function so that body will shut it down to reserve resources for fighting the threat. Fertility is extremely stressful so remember that being calm all of the time is not the goal. Instead, trying to manage your stress level is the key.
Mindfulness as a stress-reducing practice during fertility
Most people struggle in the fertility time period with worries about the future, (i.e. “Will I be pregnant?” “Will this work for me/us?” “Will I make a good parent?”) and also past sadness or despair, (i.e. remembering past losses or fertility methods that have not worked). When we focus too much on the past then it is easy to develop thought patterns such as “I am broken” or “My body is betraying me” that are easy to pull into the present. During fertility it seems like all of the focus is placed on your physical body and physical health. Try to remember that you are so much more than just your physical body; That, in fact, you aren’t actually your body at all. Rather, you have a body. You are the caretaker of your body. I will list a few examples of mindfulness ideas below, but mindfulness includes a few steps. The first step is to notice the types of thoughts and feelings you are experiencing. The second step is accepting these thoughts and feelings because of course they are happening! You are a human being! The third step is to remember that you exist far outside of those thoughts and feelings and that “you” is made up of many different things. You are not those thoughts and feelings, you have those thoughts and feelings. Thoughts happen quickly and move rapidly. Feelings change and pass. Our core self is always with us and has always been with us and will be with us throughout our lives. Times that are easier to practice mindfulness are when you are eating, going to sleep, driving, showering, or other routine activities.
Examples of mindfulness practice
1. Eating with all 5 senses: When you are sitting down to a meal, try to eat with all 5 senses- First, smell your food as it is being prepared. Try to pick out individual spices or scents. Next, examine your food with your eyes while it’s on your plate, looking at the various colors, shapes, and textures. Next, place a bite on your utensil and notice it from many angles. Once you take a bit, notice all the many tastes in your food and let the flavors fill your mouth. Notice the sensations throughout your digestive system as you begin eating your meal. With each bite, remind yourself that this food you are eating is sending rejuvenating blood flow to your reproductive organs to nourish them.
2. Core self versus physical body: The next time you are fretting about fertility, or even in a more neutral moment, try to connect with your true, core self. Remember that you are the being that your body belongs to. You are the owner of the body. You are so much more than just your physical being. Notice different parts of your physical body and then bring attention to the notion that you are not your body, you simply have this body. Try to find gratitude for different jobs your body dose; Bring in awareness such as, “I’m grateful for my strong legs for helping me to lift and carry those items today” or, “I can’t imagine how many steps my feet had to walk today.” Too often our only focus on our body is related to health issues or disease. Notice and find appreciate for all of the amazing things your body is doing well. We do not have to ask our hair or nails to grow, or our heart to beat at the correct rate to sustain us during a multitude of vastly different activity levels. Our lungs know how to deliver air to all parts of our bodies with every breath without us ever having to think about it. Think of all of the amazing things our hands do for us each day such as being able to hold the hand of a loved one, feel something soft or delicate, prepare meals for us, type up emails. The dexterity of our fingers is truly amazing. In fact, we take health mostly for granted until we no longer have the privilege to do so. This activity is a way of noticing health outside of disease or lack of health.
3. Attending to the present while driving: When you are commuting to work or driving a routine drive such as to the grocery store, first notice the mindless thoughts that enter your head. Notice the types of thoughts that are occurring and any associated emotion. Accept that these things are occurring for you without trying to censor or change them. While those thoughts and feelings are occurring commit to noticing your drive; the way the light looks in the sky, the smell of your car, the temperature of the car, etc. Notice yourself making each turn (i.e. “Now I am slowing down so that I can make a right-hand turn. Now I am speeding up after a stop sign.”) Give attention to each step of the drive instead of simply driving based on route memory.
4. Mindfulness before sleep: If thoughts are bugging you when trying to fall asleep, picture yourself standing on the edge of a stream or river. Notice the beauty of the water. As a thought enters your mind, just imagine putting the thought onto a piece of driftwood and let it slowly float away on the river. No matter if your thoughts are painful, disturbing, peaceful, or mundane, simply place them onto the driftwood and let them float along. If you are to notice that you have accidentally joined the thought on the driftwood, then simply step back onto shore and let the thought go by you, floating away on the stream. Try not to judge the thoughts or censor yourself, just notice each thought as it arises and let it go on the driftwood downstream.
Reconnecting and trusting after a fertility loss
Anyone who has experienced a loss during fertility knows how difficult it can be to trust and reconnect after a loss. It is common to feel trapped in a cycle of hope and despair. It can feel too challenging to allow oneself to feel hopeful, because if hopefulness is allowed then it is a farther drop down into despair if the other shoe is to drop. It can instead feel easiest to try and hold a neutral or jaded stance because then at least there is not as far to fall. Every month having a cycle can be a devastating and triggering experience. In addition to the above activities, practicing mindfulness in this situation would again mean to first notice and accept the types of thoughts and emotions you are having. Next, remind yourself that you are more than your body or even than this experience. Try to remember that of course fertility feels like your entire world now, that anyone in your position would feel the same way and remind yourself that fertility is just one part of you and your life. If it is too scary to feel hopeful, that is okay, just allow others with less at stake to be hopeful for you. Notice that it is difficult to be hopeful. Notice all associated thoughts and feelings and remember that you are not your thoughts or feelings but instead are the context for which those thoughts and feelings play out. This is hard and scary and devastating. Notice that and connect back into your core self.
I am not trying to insinuate that it is easy to be mindful or to sound like one of those “Pollyanna” Facebook viral “just be happy” memes that will make anyone want to smash their computer. Mindfulness is indeed difficult, but it is also simple to implement. People seem to think that it is important to “clear one’s mind” or not think or feel a certain way, when in fact it is exactly the opposite. Mindfulness means noticing thoughts and feelings and the types of thoughts and feelings that are coming up, accepting them, and then committing to focusing on the present. Continue to remind yourself that you are not your body, not your thoughts, and not your feelings; you just have all of those things as part of what it means to be a human being. You are normal and whole and complete.
For more about Kendra and the Catalyst Center Wist them at catalystcenterllc.com