HOW MEDITATION HELPS YOU COPE MENTALLY & EMOTIONALLY WITH INFERTILITY (+ No. 1 tip for meditation).
Whilst there is a lot of evidence that explores the physiological benefits of meditation for infertility in terms of how it enhances fertility and boosts your chances of conceiving, another significant benefit that’s worth focusing on is how meditation reduces infertility stress and supports you both mentally and emotionally so you can navigate all the challenges you endure on a difficult path to motherhood. Meditation can have a significant impact on your resilience levels during your fertility journey, enabling you to deal with and recover from setbacks during infertility more quickly and with greater skill and ease.
What the research on infertility stress reveals
When you consider the research cited by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine that reveals that women undergoing treatment for infertility have a similar, and often higher, level of stress as women dealing with life-threatening illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.
In another body of research where 352 women going through infertility were assessed by infertility clinics in California, it was determined that 56% of the women reported significant symptoms of depression and 76% reported significant symptoms of anxiety.
There is no doubt that infertility is a major life crisis with most women going through infertility considering it to be the most stressful thing they have ever experienced in their life.
How does meditation help with infertility?
There are so many benefits of meditation during infertility, but here are the primary examples drawing from what the research tells us, my own experience with meditation during infertility combined with discussions with other women who have practiced meditation on their journey to motherhood.
1. Reduces negative, fear-based thinking
So much of our thinking is unconscious and when going through stressful life situations like infertility, our thinking (driven by a negativity bias as a primitive form of self-protection), tends towards worst-based scenario thinking.
When you meditate, not only do you become more aware of the nature of your thoughts (and then able to choose more constructive thoughts consciously), but the parts of the brain that are associate with positive thinking are stimulated (as evidenced through research involving functional MRI’s).
Neuroscience has demonstrated that when practiced regularly, meditation can re-shape the neural pathways in your brain so that your habitual thinking patterns are naturally more positive and constructive, and as the negative and fearful thought patterns dissipate.
2. Helps you to gain perspective
Our minds and thoughts create the lens through which we experience our world so given that meditation activates the more resourceful part of your brain, it can literally transform the way you experience your life because it changes the lens through which you see your life. This helps you to gain perspective on your experience of infertility, thereby reducing the mental and emotional reactivity that increases suffering during infertility.
3. Enables you to make better decisions
Given meditation is so powerful at connecting you with the more resourceful part of your brain which means you’ll no longer be operating from the primitive, fear-based part of your brain. This increases your capacity to not only draw on logical thinking and reason to sort through information to make decisions, but you’ll also able to tap into your intuition so you can make powerful, whole-brain decisions about how to move forward on your fertility journey.
4. Helps you deal with challenging emotions
Meditation provides the perfect container for dealing with challenging emotions as it builds your capacity for observing emotions without being dominated by them. This makes it safe for the psyche to allow unexpressed feelings and emotions to come to the surface and be released with the fear of being engulfed by them.
By allowing emotions to be felt and expressed and strengthening the experience of being the observer of your emotions, rather than being dominated by them, it frees you from the emotional roller coaster that so often accompanies infertility.
5. Reduces stress and anxiety + enhances inner peace
A significant benefit of meditation is its impact on calming the nervous system. So much of our stress is caused by the impact that negative, fear-based thinking has on us and the cascade of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that are triggered when we have these thoughts.
When you ruminate about past disappointments on your fertility journey or catastrophise about future fertility treatment outcomes, these stress hormones are triggered without there even needing there to be an event which causes the stress.
When mindful-stillness meditation is practiced regularly over a period of time, stillness is brought to the mind and the body which reduces your propensity for rumination or catastrophising, thereby reducing the stress hormones which impact your nervous system and enhance stress and anxiety.
Over time, as you come to rest increasingly in the present-moment awareness that meditation cultivates, you will come to connect with your true nature and the inner peace that is always within you, beneath the reactive and fear-based way in which you’re experiencing your fertility journey.
Why you struggle to meditate and what to do about it
Whilst all of these benefits are incredible for being able to help you reclaim your life and feel like yourself again on your journey to motherhood, one of the most common things I hear women say is “I’ve tried meditating and I really struggled with it so I gave up assuming that meditation is not for me.”
I want to let you know that is this is you, you’re not alone. I struggled for many, many years with meditation when I was going through infertility. My biggest hurdle was that I just couldn’t stop my thoughts so I wasn’t able to get the kind of experience that I was seeking from meditation (based on what everyone else was raving about) and so I gave up.
To my credit, I kept trying to build a practice and eventually, I stumbled across the main thing that was blocking me from establishing a meaningful meditation practice…EXPECTATIONS!
When you consider that the ultimate state of meditation is that of pure awareness, where you’re not thinking at all, as soon as you place an expectation on your meditation around what you should be doing and what you should be experiencing, it triggers your mind to constantly compare your experience to your expectations
Even after the meditation, if your time during meditation does not live up to your expectations, you’re not going to feel motivated to go back and meditate the next day.
Four types of expectations around meditation
So, here are the 4 types of expectations that I see people struggling with when I’m teaching people to meditate (and they’re the very same expectations I wrestled with when I was trying to form a solid meditation practice).
The first one is expecting instant results. Meditation is a slow burn (you’re literally re-wiring your brain as you build your practice) and it can take weeks before you start to notice any significant shifts. Simply recognising that you won’t get instant results means you’re more likely to commit to building a solid meditation practice (remember, it’s not you – it’s jut how meditation works).
Expecting that you won’t have thoughts. You will have thoughts; it’s just about knowing what to do with those thoughts as they arise. The more you try to suppress your thoughts, the more energy you feed into them which amplifies them (I really struggled with this one when I was learning to meditate). In the stillness meditation that I now practice, it’s about allowing the thoughts to be there, but just not getting hooked into them. And this can take some practice – so you need to trust the process.
Expecting that you have to do something to make something happen or create some sort of experience. Doing is the antithesis of meditation. This is why I generally tend to steer away from guided meditations. They have their place but they’re not my ‘go to’ meditation. A good analogy for meditation is the process of falling asleep; you can’t make yourself go to sleep – you simply have to let go. The reality is that meditation is about letting go, allowing and being present to whatever is happening in the moment and recognising this can help you transform how you approach your meditation.
Expecting to be able to replicate positive experiences. Often when we do have a good experience during a meditation, we want to cling to that experience and can find ourselves expecting to be able to replicate that experience in subsequent meditations. You’ll have some meditations that are great and some that are absolute rubbish (I still experience this with my practice). Therefore, it’s about learning to sit down to meditate with what’s known as a ‘beginner’s mind’ so you are not clouding or choking your meditation with the expectation of what you think should be happening, and risking the demotivation that may arise from this unrealistic expectation.
Above all, be patient
Remember that meditation can be a slow-burn as you’re literally rewiring your brain and nervous system and teaching yourself a different way to respond to your thoughts and emotions and your external life in the process.
By reducing expectation and cultivating good habits that support you with building a solid meditation practice (even starting with 5 minutes per day), before too long, you’ll find yourself reaping all the glorious benefits of meditation and enjoying the glow that it casts over your life as you walk the path of your fertility journey, however it may unfold for you.
For more tips on all things navigating infertility, you can follow me on Instagram @opentolife_sarahreece, listen to my NAVIGATING INFERTILITY PODCAST on Spotify and iTunes or head over to my website www.opentolife.net AND for scientifically proven FREE audio practice that will get you feeling calm in minutes, download INSTANT CALM now.