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Three Steps to Calming our Bodies During Infertility

A blog by Anne Belden, MS, PCC, March 13, 2015

This weekend was my third annual Fertility Awareness Retreat. On a chilly but sunny Maine Saturday six of us gathered in a circle for the day to find support during infertility from one another. We shared stories of miscarriage,chemical pregnancies and no positive pregnancy tests at all.We also learned helpful mind/body strategies and of course ate yummy food. Many things transpired during the day, and many vulnerabilities were shared. Undoubtedly, the connecting was the most poignant for everyone. But a runner up was learning how to elicit the Relaxation Response, a term coined in 1975 by Dr. Herbert Benson, a young cardiologist.

Why was this so useful in our group? Because I believe prolonged infertility puts and keeps women in a “suspended state of trauma.” Think about it: each month you put all your positive thoughts, your physical self and your emotional muscle into trying to get pregnant, and then comes the blow of the pregnancy test - the BFN. It is traumatic. And your body reacts by releasing epinephrine into the blood stream, which triggers stress hormones, leading to increased breathing, elevated blood pressure,muscle tightening etc. Because you are fighting that nagging, gnawing biological clock and don’t want to “waste a month,” you start another cycle immediately, though your body really hasn’t settled back down to a fully restful place. Then you go through it all over again. Each time, dialing up on the suspended state of trauma.

What can you do to manage the effects of being in this suspended state when trying to conceive? Learn how to elicit the Relaxation Response - the body's inborn capacity to reduce stress. Dr. Benson discovered that by eliciting this for only 15 - 20 minutes, the body stays calm for a full 24 hours! And I have to believe this helps our bodies in their work to conceive. I believe that a quick little 5 minute “mini R & R” can help too .

There are 3 fundamental parts to eliciting this response:

  1. Deep breathing
  2. A focal point ( internal, like listening to our breath, or external like a picture on the wall )
  3. Being non-judgmental about our thoughts

These might be the basis of a favorite visualization you like, spiritual practice, or simply taking a walk. But in and of itself, if you combine these three things into a simple relaxation practice, I guarantee it will calm you.

So next time you notice that you are feeling anxious, stressed or notice your shoulders protectively hunching, try these steps:

  1. Press your internal pause button
  2. Take 3 deep breaths, all the way down into your belly, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth
  3. Now find a focal point, for instance a photo on your desk at work, or the sound of the clock ticking. Set your attention on that focal point.
  4. Take another 3 deep breaths, while keeping that focal point in your eye or mind’s eye
  5. If any thoughts race or even amble across your mind, notice them, thank them for being there, then invite them to gently step aside.
  6. Take another 3-5 deep breaths, while focusing and being accepting of any intruding thoughts
  7. Thank yourself for taking this time to get centered.
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