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Managing stress, worry and anxiety

17 July 2020

If you're part of the 1 in 6 facing fertility challenges, you may be able to relate to emotions of stress, worry and anxiety. These are triggered by the diagnosis of infertility, feeling your identity is being challenged, multiple attempts, miscarriages and uncertainty of what’s to come. If this is where you are right now, know that your emotional response is 100% normal and expected. In this blog we review what is worry and anxiety, what are the triggers and talk about 5 strategies that can help you manage these emotions.

What are worry and anxiety?

Human beings have a natural ability to think about the future, anticipate problems and plan possible solutions. This a useful skill that helps us achieve our goals. However, this ability to think about the future can also make our brain come up with worst-case scenarios, problems that may not happen and make us feel worried and anxious. This happens as a chain of thoughts that quickly goes from a simple thought to another that is catastrophic and unlikely. This usually happens when we face situations that are ambiguous (open to different interpretations), new (we don’t have the experience to fall back on) or unpredictable (we're unclear how it will turn out). You can see how fertility challenges can be a trigger to worry and anxiety, as the situation is often something new, ambiguous and we’re not sure how everything will end.

Worry and anxiety related to fertility problems can look like this:

Alongside intrusive and catastrophic thoughts, worry and anxiety often bring physical symptoms that can include:

  • Muscle tension or aches and pains
  • Restlessness and an inability to relax
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling easily fatigued

Not all worry is the same!

Have you noticed that most of the things we spend the day worrying about, never end up happening? This is because not all worry is the same. There are real problem worries and hypothetical worries.

Real problem worries are about actual problems that need solutions right now. For example, if you don’t know your fertile days, there is a helpful solution: to track your cycle and monitor ovulation.

Hypothetical worries include worst-case scenarios that are unlikely to happen, like in the chain of thought shown above.

What can you do about worry and anxiety?

There is no ‘right’ amount of worry. A certain degree of worry and anxiety is normal. But if it stops you from doing what you want to do, makes you upset or keeps you from enjoying life, you might want to do something about it. There are 5 simple strategies you can you use to manage worry and anxiety:

1. Strive for a balanced

life Wellbeing comes from living a balanced life, with activities that give you feelings of pleasure, achievement, and connection.

Pleasure: read a book, watch a comedy movie, dancing

Achievement: housework, decorating, gardening, trying a new recipe

Connection: social media, phone, video calls

2. Is this 'real problem' worry, or 'hypothetical worry'?

When you notice you are getting worried or anxious, try to identify what is the thought behind the worry, by asking: what am I worrying about? Then ask yourself if there is anything you can do about it. If there aren’t any solutions to your worry, let it go and focus on something important to you right now. If there are solution stow your worry, plan what you can do, and when you will do it.

3. Postpone your worry

Worry and anxiety can make you feel as you have to engage with these thoughts right in that moment. Take back control by saying “I’m not going to worry about this now” and plan a time later in the day to deliberately reflect on that worry.

4. Speak to yourself with compassion

Unhelpful thoughts are often associated with worry and anxiety. You may find the voice in your head coming up with negative words or thoughts. Try to write down your worries and find a compassionate way to respond to them. Think about the situation that triggered the worry, the feeling or emotion that you are experiencing, the automatic thought (often catastrophic) and then acknowledge your worry by saying “I understand why I am concerned about this. But I choose to focus on the present moment, on real solutions to real problems. I will deal with future problems when they happen.”

5. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is the process of paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally to allow the unfolding of the moment by moment experiences. You can bring more awareness to your life by listening to mindfulness recordings or focusing on your breathing. You can also focus your attention externally (on your environment, or on activities you are doing). Take a 2-minute break and use your five senses - sight, sound, touch, smell, taste – to notice something about the present moment and help you connect with your body, emotions and surroundings.

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