By Lisa Schuman

Coping with COVID-19 and the on-going changes that you need to make in your life can feel overwhelming. You may be exhausted from sleepless nights, managing worries about getting sick, social distancing, finances, and coping with the day to day difficulties of managing a household, getting food, paper products and cleaning supplies.

When you are planning on building your family and those plans have been put on hold, or a reduction of income has damaged your opportunity to pay for treatment, the stress can be overwhelming.  Fertility treatment often creates experiences of hope and disappointment. This cycle has been coined “the rollercoaster of infertility” because the up and down experience of fertility treatment can feel like a rollercoaster ride.  If you are pregnant and concerned about getting sick or the new hospital policies, the feelings of “fight or flight” can come rushing back, just when you thought they were over.  COVID-19 has caused a similar dynamic for many people. Therefore, if you are building your family, it is likely your stress levels have been mounting.  This is important to understand as it is vitally important to care for yourself, each and every day.

If you find yourself irritable, sad, anxious, depressed, or are having difficulty coping with day to day activities, reaching out to a mental health professional can be enormously helpful. At the Center for Family Building, you can rest assured that you will only speak with therapists who have years of experience and are licensed and certified therapists.  Feel free to connect with us at www.familybuilding.net.

Here are nine tips to help you manage your emotional state during this trying time.  They are categorized into three categories:

1. Decreasing negative emotions
2. Increasing positive emotions
3. Managing feelings of overwhelm (or feeling out of control). 

Many people gravitate towards strategies that help decrease negative emotions.  However, using strategies from all three of these categories is important and helpful to your overall well-being.  As the COVID-19 crisis evolves, your symptoms may change.  This may necessitate returning to this list to add new or different strategies to your toolbox.  If you would like some help with this or receive personal guidance or support please feel free to reach out to me, Lisa Schuman, LCSW, at the Center for Family Building Lisa@familybuilding.net and visit us at www.familybuilding.net for additional information. 

Decreasing Negative Emotions

• Be mindful of your body: The internet is full of companies offering free exercise, stretching, dance classes, pilates, yoga classes and more.  There are several people on social media hosting regular “dance parties” and exercise instruction.  If you are tired of looking at your computer, play a song, dance around the house and sing out loud. It’s almost impossible to feel down while dancing to your favorite song.

When your posture is poor, you tend to feel worse. Think about how you stand or sit when you are feeling upset vs. feeling happy.   This is a “fake it ‘til you make it strategy” and is backed by research.  So, sit up straight, even when you don’t feel like it. A small adjustment in posture can change your attitude.

• Take care of your mind. During times of crisis, your mind may be in overdrive. The best way to quiet the mind is meditation.  It is important not to dismiss meditation out of hand.  There are many types of meditation and many meditation apps and YouTube videos that are free or low cost. Therapy can be extremely useful too, and there are many therapists who can conduct their sessions on line. Last, there are stress reduction strategies such as Tapping, which have helped many in times of crisis.  It is important to find the strategy that works for you.

Yoga has been called moving meditation.  If you have trouble sitting still, yoga may be a way for you to quiet your mind while moving your body.  Just like meditation, yoga is called a practice because the more you do it, the better the affect.

• Go on a news diet.  While keeping up with the news is important, the stress that naturally develops from ingesting negativity and fear can have a significant effect on your psyche.  One news program or a half hour of reading the news is enough to keep you up to date and protect your state of mind. Since negative messages can be so disruptive to your mood, it is best not to watch the news before you go to bed or if you are feeling an increased level of stress.

Increase Positive Emotions

• Get outside.  Moving your body is important but it is also helpful to take a walk outside when possible.  Feeling the sun or wind on your face and smelling the scents outside your home activates your senses, and can have a positive effect on your well-being.

•Give.  When you give to others, you give to yourself.  After performing an act of kindness, you may notice that you feel more joy and inner peace.  There are many opportunities on line. You can sew masks, send pictures of homemade cards to homebound people, donate, or take a class to be certified to offer support to a hotline.

• Laugh.  Even if you are feeling down, a funny movie, book or video can help pull you out of your slump.  There are many accounts of people finding healing through laughter.

• Practice gratitude.  The saying, “gratitude will change your attitude” may seem hokey but it works. Research backs it up.  You can start by saying, writing and thinking about 3-5 things you are grateful for each day.  Even if life is unbelievably challenging, finding anything you can feel grateful for, even if it is just that you are breathing, can elevate your mood.

Managing Overwhelm (Or Feeling Out Of Control)

• Engage in pleasurable activities that are within your control. This could mean reorganizing your living room, taking an on-line drawing class or learning how to knit.  The fight or flight response is triggered when the body feels a potential threat is near. 

Once that fear has passed, the body recovers.  For example, if something scares you, your heart may race and the hair may stand up on the back of your neck. When it is over, the body returns to its natural state.  COVID-19 is posing an unusual dilemma in that there are repeated assaults to our well-being.  The accumulation of repeated upset causes an accumulation of cortisol and can cause us to feel exhausted and worn out.  If you have experienced fertility treatment, your mind and body is at an even greater risk of experiencing stress.

One day we learn we cannot go to our favorite diner and the next we are instructed not to socialize with our neighbors. There are more restrictions each day and we learn about the dire consequences of not following these mandates. The assault on your state of mind is frequent and there are few answers. Therefore, your body can feel dysregulated.  When you put your energy into an activity that is pleasurable, not only do you have a pleasurable distraction but seeing a result for your efforts can feel very stabilizing. 

If finance concerns or the sudden end of treatment are part of your experience, you may feel empowered by using some relaxation exercises and then problem solving.  Finding new ways to make money, exploring fertility options with your doctor or reproductive counselor, meeting with a fertility nutritionist to improve your health and prepare your body for treatment are some examples of ways to feel more “in control”.  If this exercise causes more frustration, pursue it in short periods of time or put it on the shelf until you are feeling a greater sense of control.

• Stay on a schedule.  Going to bed and waking at the same time each day has been shown to be beneficial to your health and emotional well-being.  In this time of crisis, it is especially important to avoid the temptation to stay up late or “sleep in”.  Maintaining your body’s typical schedule can help you sleep better at night, help you feel productive and keep your household in sync.

If you would like more helpful tools, visit us at www.familybuilding.net, follow us on social media or subscribe to our YouTube channel.  We are here to help.

Wishing you the best,

Lisa