By Mia Joelsson, LCSW/LCSW-C
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.” – Corrie Ten Boom
Everyone worries sometimes. And infertility is an experience that lends itself easily to worry. There are just so many aspects of infertility to worry about:
- Can we/I afford the treatment?
- How will I survive the two week wait?
- Are the shots going to hurt?
- What if I have to see another pregnant friend or coworker?
- Will my partner be able to understand how I feel about all of this?
- What if I have side effects from the treatments?
- And the BIG ONE…..what if this never works out for me?
So, why do people worry?
Worry is a very normal, natural process that we all experience. There are many common reasons we worry:
- To try to find a solution to a problem
- To try to prevent ourselves from overlooking something important
- To avoid being surprised by something negative
- To try to be responsible or prepared
- To prevent something scary from happening
- And so on …
Can worry be a good thing?
Absolutely. Worry can be productive and useful in certain situations. If worry is productive in nature and we can use it to move quickly toward action that solves a problem, then it can be useful to worry a bit. For example: if you are planning a trip and feel worried about making it to the airport on time, or getting directions to the hotel and packing the right items, then you are experiencing productive worry and the worry will be useful in preparing well for your trip. Productive worry during infertility treatment might lead you to follow through with your nurse about a question you have about your protocol, or preparing a list of questions to discuss with your doctor at your next consultation.
How do I know if I’m worrying too much?
In contrast to productive worry, unproductive worry is less useful and often unhealthy for us. Unproductive worry involves dwelling on possible negative outcomes, worrying until you have complete control of the situation, and feeling unable to tolerate any amount of uncertainty.
Worrying about questions that have no answers (“Why is this happening to me?”), assuming that the worst-case scenario will always happen to you (“I will be the only person I know who never gets to have a baby”), or consistently rejecting potential solutions because they aren’t perfect (“If I don’t have X mature follicles this cycle, there’s no way this is going to work”) are unproductive types of worry.
If you are worrying most of the day, nearly every day each week, AND the worry is causing considerable distress and impairing your ability to function in your daily life, it’s probably time to address it.
How can I stop worrying so much?
Let’s think of it as trying to reduce worry in healthy ways, or even to “worry better.” Here are some really good (and fun!) ways to work on identifying and reducing worry:
“Worry Time:” Assign yourself a mandatory “worry time” each day where you will set a timer for 20 minutes and think or write about your worries until the time is up. At all other times of the day, when worries pop up, remind yourself that you will have time to worry later at your designated “worry time” and write down a quick note to remind yourself to worry about this issue. Then distract yourself with other activities and wait until your “worry time.” What this helps to do is reduce the amount of time you spend worrying and its potential invasiveness into your thoughts so that you can remain productive and focused the rest of the day.
Identify and challenge negative thoughts: We all have constant thoughts running through our minds that we aren’t even aware of. When we feel frequently worried, these thoughts often have a very negative tone. Here are some examples of negative thought patterns:
- Thinking in all-or-nothing terms (“Either I get pregnant this cycle or it will never happen.”)
- Catastrophic thoughts (“If I ever get pregnant, I’m sure I’ll have a miscarriage.”)
- Over-generalizing (“I’ll never be able to be around other pregnant people.”)
- Discounting positive outcomes (“So what if I had a good retrieval? That doesn’t mean this is going to work.”)
- Fortune telling (“I’ll never have a baby.”)
When you notice these themes popping up in your thinking, work on gently examining the thoughts and ask yourself the following questions:
- Is this thought true or logical?
- Is this thought helping me right now?
- Is there another way of thinking about this?
By putting these thoughts into true perspective, you can help to reduce their negative impact.
Practice mind-body techniques: Practicing yoga, meditation, mindfulness, guided imagery, and deep breathing daily can help you feel what is happening in your body. Try to engage in mini-mindfulness sessions every day. Choose something you do several times a day and mindfully “tune in” deeply to the activity. Setting reminders on your phone might help you remember to do it regularly. Some smartphone apps to try are Calm, Headspace, and The Mindfulness App. Repetitive, quiet activities like knitting and coloring have also been shown to help with reducing worry since they focus your mind on the task at hand.
Prioritize self-care: We all know we should take good care of ourselves, but experiencing a profound stressor like infertility can make it challenging to remember the basics. Make it a priority to eat healthy, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, drink lots of water, utilize your support network, set healthy boundaries with others, and connect meaningfully with your partner. This foundation will allow you extra emotional energy to manage the stress of infertility.
Try therapy and/or a support group: Having a confidential place to feel heard and get your feelings out can be really important. Therapy and support groups can also help you normalize your worries and find new ways to cope better with your situation. Visit this link for more information about finding emotional support: https://www.shadygrovefertility.com/support.
Worry is a normal response to infertility. Using these tools should help you manage your worry about the journey ahead.
Mia Joelsson is a licensed clinical social worker in Pennsylvania and Maryland. She has a special interest in working with individuals and couples facing reproductive challenges of infertility, pregnancy, pregnancy loss, and postpartum adjustment. Joelsson is passionate about helping “infertility graduates” who are adapting to the new realities of pregnancy and parenting after struggling with infertility. She sees clients primarily in Shady Grove Fertility’s Harrisburg, PA, office.
Leahy, R.L. (2005). The Worry Cure: Seven Steps to Stop Worry from Stopping You. New York: Random House.
Blitzer, B. (2011). The Infertility Workbook: A Mind-Body Program to Enhance Fertility, Reduce Stress, and Maintain Emotional Balance. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
If you would like to learn more about Shady Grove Fertility’s support services or to schedule an appointment, please speak with one of our New Patient Liaisons at 877-971-7755.