TTC: How do you harness anxious thoughts? When you think about your fertility journey, what percentage of the time are you anxious? 50%? More? Many of us live with chronic anxiety as we ttc and it shows up in many different ways. For example:
- You find it hard to concentrate.
- You argue more with your family, particularly your mother.
- You put on weight.
- You lose weight.
- You become overly controlling of every aspect of your journey.
- If everything isn’t perfect then it’s a disaster.
- You cry all the time.
- You are on high alert at work, waiting for the next pregnancy announcement.
You may have felt some of these – perhaps you have examples of your own. Fertility challenges and anxiety seem to go hand-in-hand.
What I’ve noticed about anxiety is that there is always a trigger, you feel that squirt of anxiety but rather than stay with the original thought you escalate it. You subconsciously ratchet up fear and it escalates. Like a waterfall, you tumble from thought to thought, churning up your insecurities and swirling them around in your mind. Often by this stage you’ve moved far away from the initial anxious thought and taken it into place that feels much darker and scarier.
An anxiety scenario
Imagine this. You’re about to start a new IVF cycle. This is the first morning you need to get to your clinic early to give blood. On the way you get caught up in traffic and immediately you feel anxious … Then you start to get annoyed with yourself for not getting up earlier to take into account the traffic, and you can feel the squeeze of anger surfacing … Immediately your mind starts to think about what will happen if you get to the clinic and there are ten people are in front of you …
Frustration and stress start to build and you take it one stage further … You now remember the meeting you have at 9am where you’re presenting to new clients … and your thoughts tumble on… what if they ask why you are late, and you’ve not told anyone at work that you’re doing IVF … and what will happen if they find out ...
Do you see where I’m going with this? We move from one anxious thought to another and another and another. There is no judgement here, I have done this myself which is why I can talk to you about it. So how do you break out of this anxiety loop?
Papancha – the mosquito of mindfulness
One of my teachers, Tara Brach, long-time Buddhist meditation teacher, and psychologist, recently taught me about a word in Buddhism called ‘papancha‘ – it’s the mosquito of mindfulness. It describes the bustle of mental activity or proliferation that we get when we’re anxious and can’t turn off our thoughts.
Interestingly, no thoughts = no papancha.
3 steps to harness anxiety
So, what can you do to escape papancha and slow down your thoughts when you’re caught up in the loop of anxiety? Here are 3 simple steps that can help:
- Recognise what is going on and name it. For example when you’re in the car and you’re late you might say ‘oh this is anxiety’, or ‘I can feel myself getting anxious’. Naming it stops you swirling into the next thought and the next.
- Allow it to be there. I’m not saying that you have to love being late, (no one likes that) but if you can allow the feeling of anxiety to be there, without trying to fix it or wish it were different – acceptance happens. Allow it to be there and let it move through you.
- Offer yourself a gesture of kindness: I learnt this from Tara and I love it. When things get tough, most of us tell ourselves off, e.g. “How could you be late!” “I should have known better, the traffic is always bad in the morning”. “This is so typical of you not to plan it better”. Instead, can you soften and give yourself the benefit of the doubt? Start by placing your hand on your heart to steady yourself, then say something like, “Breathe my friend”, “I love you ‘Mel’ (add your name here)”, “It’s OK darling.”
Remember you are doing the best that you can with the situation that you’re in. If you feel anxious, know you are not alone. We ALL feel it. We really do. Reframing anxious, negative thoughts takes practice. Next time you’re in a tough spot see if you can remember to practice these 3 steps.
You’ve got this. This is you.
*TTC – Try to Conceive