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Simple Breathing Exercises to Cope with Infertility Anxiety

By: Amira Posner, MSW, RSW

In Buddhist philosophy, the main reason why humans suffer is because of our attachments and cravings. If we desire things we do not possess, then we suffer. But, if we are able to let those desires go the suffering will end.

Many people dealing with infertility wish letting go was easy. The struggle of infertility is real, painful, and difficult to accept. I know this firsthand; I was there seven years ago. I could not let go as each failed fertility treatment left me devastated and wanting a baby even more. I was hopeless and helpless.

I tried to find balance, looking for things to laugh about and things that could inspire me. I enrolled in a Mindfulness Meditation class and that’s where I learned about the importance of breath.

The first session was a bit of a shock. The instructor spent the first 90 minutes talking about breath. I had had no idea that something as simple as breathing, which we do every day, could be so vital to changing my perspective on my fertility issues.

Once I found my way through it, I wanted to help others going through the same thing. Now, in my career as a social worker, I help individuals and couples dealing with infertility understand the mind-body connection.

With infertility, there are so many things out of our control. The breath is something we can use to feel empowered and in control. As we deal with infertility, we often spend a lot of time googling fertility information, searching for what we can do or change. We get stuck in negative thought patterns that make us anxious. Sometimes we can get so stressed that we hyperventilate or have panic attacks.

With infertility, there are so many things out of our control. The breath is something we can use to feel empowered and in control. The breath is a built-in regulator. The simple act of breathing can relax, release, and free you or it can constrict and suffocate you. Being mindful of your breathing can change your body’s responses physically, psychologically, and emotionally. Calm breathing can be an anchor, bringing you back to the present moment and centring your mind. It can trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing a panicked heartbeat, lowering your blood pressure and relaxing your muscles.

This idea of catching or controlling your breath may seem far-fetched. I was doubtful at first, as are many of my clients. But, once I started the process and kept at it, I became a true believer. Breathing exercises carried me through my IVF treatment, and later, my pregnancy with twins.

To get a sense of the simple power of breath control, here is one example—the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique, also known as “The Relaxing Breath.” This is an excellent way to self-soothe the mind and body and it’s easy to learn.

Both Buddhist and Hindu yoga traditions feature meditation and breathing practices. This breathing technique is based on “pranayama,” an ancient Indian yoga practice that signifies “regulation of breath.”

To start, get comfortable either sitting or lying down. You can look forward at one spot with a gentle gaze or close your eyes. Begin the breathing exercise.

Step 1: Gently place one hand on your lower belly and the other on your chest.

Step 2: Take a slow breath in from deep inside your belly. Feel the belly rise, while in your mind you count to 4.

Step 3: Hold the breath inside, and silently count to 7.

Step 4: Now release it, breathing out completely as you count to 8. Try to get all the air out of your lungs. Notice your belly deflate. Make a quiet whoosh sound as you exhale.

Step 5: Repeat the exercise three times or until you feel calmer.

You can do this at home or anywhere, if you find yourself in a highly anxious state. Go to a bathroom or a private space, if that’s not an option try this wherever you are, even in a doctor’s office or on the subway.

Catching your breath is so important when you’re upset or stressed. It doesn’t change the circumstances, but it may reduce your suffering by changing how you react to what’s happening during your fertility journey, or any challenging situation.