Posted: 06 Oct 2021
Author: Elizabeth Webb, Fertility Counsellor
Infertility and its treatment may be physically and emotionally exhausting. The possible loss of the opportunity to parent, and raised expectations and dashed hopes with unsuccessful treatment cycles are two major sources of distress. Many patients experience anxiety because treatment outcomes are uncertain. Feelings of loss, hopelessness and lack of control may cause depressive symptoms to develop. Sometimes, relationships and satisfaction with life may suffer and patients may decide not to continue treatment.
Fertility treatment can be emotionally and physically demanding, time-consuming and lengthy. It may “steal” attention from everyday life, significant events, and personal relationships. Mindfulness helps us focus on the present moment and the people we are with rather than being physically present but mentally elsewhere (thinking about something else, planning ahead, focussing on emotional pain or suffering). Sadly, being distant in this way may mean important others pull away too.
In recent decades, mindfulness has become part of mainstream psychological practice. It has been helpful for a range of conditions including chronic pain, stress, and depression, and is a core part of several psychological therapies. Its benefits are many: improved physical health (e.g., better immune functioning), cognitive functioning (e.g., less distractibility, improved memory), mental wellbeing (e.g., reduction in anxiety and depressive symptoms), and relationships (e.g., less conflict, more effective communication). Not surprisingly, researchers have examined whether the practice of mindfulness may be helpful during fertility treatment, with several studies showing this to be the case.
The practice of mindfulness can help us step back from and recognise the difference between thoughts and facts. It is important to remember that thoughts are not facts. Thoughts about the future (e.g. “Fertility treatment will fail”) or about the past may trigger upsetting emotions and we may respond to these thoughts as if they reflect reality.
Mindfulness helps us experience reality as it is. This means we are more effective in our lives, and more present in our life and for others.
Being mindless has been compared to walking through a room full of furniture blindfolded. The goal of mindfulness is to reduce mindlessness so that we notice what is going on around us, what we are thinking, feeling and doing. Thus, we have the information we need to respond effectively to life’s challenges.
To be mindful is to be in the present moment. Being distracted, focussed on concerns about the future or ruminating about past events means we don’t get to fully experience important moments of our lives.
Mindfulness is built through intentional practice – the important words being intentional and practice. As with any mental ability, the ability to manage attention is strengthened by repeated, focussed practise. There are many, many ways to do this. To quote an expert in the field:
“Mindfulness can be practised anytime, anywhere, while doing anything. Intentionally paying attention to the moment, without judging it or holding onto it, is all that is needed.” (Linehan, 2015)
Practise everyday mindfulness each day by
• Setting the intention to be mindful
• As much as you can doing one thing at a time,
• Using routine events or experiences as memory jogs to be mindful,
• Doing a regular task mindfully rather than “on automatic” (e.g., cleaning your teeth, drinking a coffee, walking, paying attention to another during a conversation).
Of course, minds wander – that’s what they do. So, when this happens, as it will, gently without getting upset with yourself, bring your attention back to the task at hand.
There is also guided mindfulness practice. Mindfulness apps to try include:
• Smiling Mind
• Stop, Breath, Think
• Simply Being
Finally, being attentive requires you to be awake and alert. Some simple changes may help with this
• Take care of your physical health and ensure you are getting enough sleep.
• As best you can, sit in an upright posture. This provides feedback to the area of the brain involved with wakefulness and consciousness.
• Take a few deeps breaths. Oxygen fuels our nervous system.