How to play the anxious waiting game
By Juliana Kassianos, Transformational Coach, Yoga Teacher and Founder of The School of Fertility
Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, fear, apprehension and unease. Symptoms might include having repetitive negative thoughts such as “What if we don’t get pregnant this month”, insomnia as a result of too many thoughts swirling around in your head and nausea, which is difficult to deal with as it can be mistaken as an early pregnancy symptom. It’s really common to feel anxiety when you’re trying to conceive, here are some reasons why:
Having a baby is really important to you, it's something you desperately want but only have a certain amount of control over
Having sex at the right time stresses you out as you're worried you might miss your fertile window for that month
You've invested a lot both personally and financially in having fertility treatment
You can't bare not knowing whether you're pregnant or not
You fear getting a negative pregnancy result and the sheer disappointment that comes along with it
This is all made 10 times worse by the agonising waiting involved. There's the waiting for your period to finish, waiting for your fertile window to start, waiting for the two-weeks wait to be over and waiting to see if you’re pregnant. Some of you might find this easy and just try to keep yourself distracted throughout the month, but for those of you like me who are ever so slightly impatient, here’s my tips on how to handle anxiety when it comes to playing the waiting game.
ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR ANXIETY
First, it’s important you acknowledge your anxiety. Ask yourself when you feel most anxious during your menstrual cycle, what triggers your anxiety and how it affects you. For example, what thoughts run through your head, how does it physically manifest in your body, what other symptoms do you feel. Become aware of how anxiety impacts you and your daily life, then try to use the following practices to stop your anxiety from taking over.
SWITCH FROM ANXIETY TO EXCITEMENT
If you feel like your symptoms are coming on, try to stop your thoughts from spiralling out of control. They will only worsen your symptoms and, therefore, your anxiety. To do this, count backwards from five to one, just like a NASA rocket launching into space… Five, four, three, two, one. Then think of something you’re excited about and really try to visualise it in your head. This could be the thought that you might get pregnant this month, in which case visualise yourself seeing the positive result on the home pregnancy test. Otherwise you might visualise an upcoming spa day you’re looking forward to. The feelings of anxiety and excitement are very similar. By using this technique taught by Mel Robbins, it allows your mind to put a label on what it is you’re feeling.
PRACTICE THE 4-7-8 BREATH
The 4-7-8 breathing technique is designed to induce your parasympathetic nervous system; a part of your autonomic nervous system that turns off stress, bringing you into a relaxed state. It’s particularly good if you experience anxiety and insomnia. To start, breathe in through your nose for the count of four. Hold your breath for the count of seven. Breathe out through your mouth for the count of eight. Try repeating this for at least a few minutes. Notice how the exhale is double the length of the inhale. This helps to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which turns off stress and helps you to relax.
WRITE IN A JOURNAL
Write down any worries you have in a diary before you go to sleep, as this will help to get them out of your head and on to paper. As well as keeping a diary, I like to use ‘The Five-Minute Journal’. In the morning, it asks you to write down what you’re grateful for, what would make the day great and a daily affirmation e.g. I am... "grateful for my body and the innate wisdom it holds to create life". In the evening it asks you to write down three amazing things that happened in the day and how you could have made the day better. Each day it includes an inspirational quote such as “It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back. If I can relax, fear relaxes too” by Elizabeth Gilbert. Then each week you get a challenge like “Treat yourself to something that makes you feel good”. It’s built around the principles of positive psychology and is a handy tool to help you focus your attention on all that’s good in your life and all that you are blessed to have already.
PRACTICE 'LET GO' MEDITATION
This is a super simple mantra-based mediation to help you release any feelings of anxiety or stress, preventing them from building up to an unmanageable level. When I first started to meditate, I found mantra-based meditation a little bit easier as it helped to keep my mind from wandering as it involves concentrating on reciting a specific mantra, which in this case are the words “Let go”.
To start the practice, sit in a comfortable position somewhere quiet, where you won’t be disturbed. Set an alarm on your phone for five minutes. As you get into the habit of practising this technique you can lengthen the practice to 10 or 15 minutes. Gently close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose. As you do so, say the word “Let” in your head. Focus on the word as you say it. Then exhale through your mouth whilst at the same time saying the word “Go” in your head, again keeping your focus on the word as you say it. Repeat this process for five minutes finding your own natural rhythm. No doubt as you start this process, thoughts will pop into your head. This is okay, just acknowledge their presence and gently bring your attention back to the mantra as you slowly breathe in and out. When the alarm signals the end of the time, come back to your normal breath and open your eyes.
Ideally you want to practice it two times daily, once in the morning and once in the evening, throughout your menstrual cycle. There will be times when you don’t feel like practicing it, but these will also likely be the times when practicing it will be of most benefit, clearing your head and calming your body. Why not set yourself a challenge to try it for at least a week and see how it makes you feel. If mantra-based meditation isn’t for you, then try subscribing to ‘Headspace’ App for guided meditation – they even have a specific one for anxiety.