Simple Steps to Less Stress and More Stress-Control
Did you know that change, even good change, is a powerful stress trigger? That’s because our fight and flight response increases as our ability to predict what’s coming next decreases until both our brain and body are on high alert. And 2020 was filled with uncertainty and change: the pandemic, election confusion, job uncertainty, lockdowns and losses, masks and social distancing, and postponements and cancellations.
And if you are a fertility patient, you were probably already worrying, watching, and waiting for results. Then, if your treatment was interrupted or delayed by COVID-19, you were probably worrying about losing time, watching the news, and waiting for your fertility clinic to let you know you can safely come in for treatment. A triple stress whammy.
So let’s talk about increasing stress control.
First, understand that our stress response is meant for brief emergencies, not constant worrying, watching, and waiting and that prolonged stress leads to emotional and physical exhaustion. To help turn down your stress response, try dividing your daily life into two categories: those things you can control and those things you can’t control. Start with the things you can control and take choices and make choices whenever you can. For example, set up your work and fertility office visits or calls with enough time in between to digest information. Schedule time-outs for yourself to relax and don’t use that time to doomscroll or listen to frightening news. The more your sense of control goes up, the more your stress response will go down. As for the list of everything you can’t control, like the pandemic or global economy, give yourself permission to be an observer or commentator instead of wasting adrenaline and exhausting yourself. You need your strength for the long run, for your family building journey.
Next, understand that you can’t be in two states at the same time, so if you behave ‘as if’ you are calm, that signals your stress response that it is not needed and soon you will be more calm. How do you signal? You can’t directly control your heart rate or blood pressure, but you can control your breathing pace and a slower pace tells your stress-response it’s not needed. Try it before your next doctor’s visit. Take easy, rhythmic breaths or try humming, praying, or even reading aloud to yourself. They all slow down and regulate your breathing. They also remind you what it feels like to be more relaxed so you’ll be more likely to notice when you tense up.
Next, pausing is a powerful stress reliever. A total of twenty minutes a day will cut stress symptoms in half according to Harvard Research. Read a magazine for five minutes, play Words With Friends without multitasking for ten minutes, sit and have a cup of tea without speaking on the phone or doing work, close your eyes and do progressive relaxation. They all work, but increase your control over your stress level. You have to make the time to do it!
Here’s my reminder to take time to de-stress. Every time I see my reflection in a store window or a mirror, I check my face and shoulders for signs of tension and relax my muscles on the spot. Then try mindfulness. Since we don’t want to re-live 2020, and can’t pre-live the years to come, bring yourself into the here and now. In this moment, you have full control. Particularly if you are going through fertility treatment, since we often can’t predict the length or direction of our journey. Every day, spend some time in the immediate present and enjoy the moment.
And last, but not least, practice smiling again. There hasn’t been much of it during 2020 because we are hard-wired to worry – it’s part of our survival instinct. So although you may feel worried about your fertility treatment and the pandemic, deliberately think of a happy memory or funny incident, pass on a humorous meme, or search you tube for your kind of comedy. Smiles and laughter are nature’s own antidotes for stress. They release mood-elevating biochemicals that promote optimism, relax tense muscles that are ready for fight or flight, and help you sleep well, too. We all hope 2021 will have more smiles and laughter than 2020, but don’t wait for them. Make them happen.