For many people, it’s hard to conceive a child—in fact, 1 in 8 people struggle with conception. And it’s not just a physical issue. Struggling with conception can also be a source of relentless stress, anxiety, frustration and sadness. If you’re on your path to parenthood, it’s essential to nurture your mental wellness and develop the fortitude to respond to all the family-building challenges that come your way.
Mindfulness is one way to fortify your mental health. Mindfulness is the act of tuning into the present moment in a non-judgmental way. It provides a lens of awareness that will transform your approach to life and how you care for yourself.
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Here are four easy mindfulness strategies that can improve mental health for those who are trying to conceive:
1. Affirmations to enhance your self-worth
In a Harvard Mental Health letter, a study showed that “women with infertility felt as anxious or depressed as those diagnosed with cancer, hypertension, or recovering from a heart attack.” Whether you’re undergoing fertility treatments or pursuing adoption or surrogacy, the path to parenthood can engender feelings of shame, isolation, disconnection and just being lost.
With each successive attempt to become a parent, you can start to feel like there’s something wrong with you, and experience a diminished sense of self-worth. According to Dr. Rashmi Kudesia, a reproductive endocrinology and Infertility specialist at CCRM Houston, “Many women also begin to change or second-guess their lifestyle, whether it’s their work schedule, fitness regimen, or how they eat or drink—and, while some of these changes can be healthy choices, sometimes they result in a loss of sense of self.” During these tough moments, it’s important to remember to extend self-compassion and grace to yourself. Your inner critic often says the harshest things, so challenging these detrimental thoughts is key to enhancing your self-esteem.
Actionable tip: Mindfulness strategies like affirmations can help boost your sense of self-worth. Affirmations are words or phrases that offer kindness, love and support. They act as reminders of your inner power. Here are some examples:
- I am strong.
- I am capable.
- I am worthy.
Write down some of the phrases that you need to hear during your path to parenthood. Say them to yourself during tough times. Write them down on sticky notes and put them on your mirror so you have a daily reminder to say these phrases to yourself. With repetition, your mind will start to hold on to these empowering words of encouragement.
2. Cultivating gratitude to shift your mindset
When your attempts at becoming a parent are unsuccessful, negativity starts to take hold. If you’re focused on what you’re lacking, it can feel hard to shift to a place of positivity. With the help of mindfulness techniques, you can shift your mindset from one of lack to one of abundance.
Cultivating gratitude is a mindfulness strategy that utilizes awareness to identify things that bring you joy. When you tune into the present moment, you step outside of the chaos of fertility challenges and instead focus on the good things right in front of you. Under the circumstances, it might be hard to think of things that you are grateful for. Know that it’s totally okay and normal to feel this way.
Actionable tip: One way to jumpstart the process of gratitude is to think of obvious things that we take for granted like waking up, breathing, having a cup of coffee. Starting out this way can make it easier to pinpoint other things that bring you joy. Over time and with practice, your brain will develop a greater ability to access gratitude and joy.
3. Tune into your feelings to improve self-awareness
Fertility challenges can become so all-consuming that you feel you are losing touch with yourself. You can get hyper-focused on the end goal and lose sight of who you are in the process. Mindfulness gives us a way to reconnect with who we are outside of our path to parenthood. Every time we tune into ourselves in the present moment, we rekindle our inner light and power and also gain an understanding of what we need to do to care for ourselves.
Actionable tip: Take a moment out of your day to sit in silence and tune into how you are feeling that day—physically, mentally, emotionally. Witness how your body feels. Are you holding on to any tension or stress? What are your thoughts in that moment? Allow them to gently float in and out without judgment. Then, decide what you need to do to care for yourself based on how you feel in the moment.
4. Breathing exercises to help you embrace life
Undergoing fertility treatments or pursuing alternative paths to parenthood requires a lot of work, from tests to medical procedures to loads of paperwork. It is an exhausting process that makes you feel like you are just going through the motions, always thinking about the next steps. To care for yourself during this trying process, Dr. Kudesia recommends “sufficient physical activity, sleep, and social connectedness, and active stress management via support groups, therapy, meditation and/or mindfulness” in order to embrace a healthier lifestyle.
Actionable tip: A quick way to incorporate mindfulness into your day is to utilize a breathing technique to help slow down the swirl of chaos that may surround you. Try out this 4-5-6 breathing exercise:
- Breathe in slowly for four seconds.
- Hold your breath for five seconds.
- Exhale slowly for six seconds.
Repeat this pattern as many times as you need to in order to feel more relaxed. The act of tuning into the present moment breaks the cycle of backward or forward-thinking. Instead, you tap into what’s happening in the now.
The mindfulness strategies mentioned here are all items you can add to your self-care toolkit. The key to success is practicing them often. That way, the brain creates new pathways toward calm, clarity, and positivity. The more we practice mindfulness strategies, the quicker and easier it becomes to tap into our inner peace and navigate the challenges of building a family. When we take the time to care for our minds, the rest of life can start to feel more manageable.
A version of this story was published May 28, 2021. It has been updated.