By: Amira Posner, MSW, RSW
Every night before I go to sleep, I write down three things I experienced throughout the day that I am grateful for.
The exercise can take anywhere from 5-10 minutes, and the benefits are exponential. This practice of gratitude is especially significant when someone is in the midst of a struggle such as infertility, a period when gratitude is the very last thing on the mind.
Cultivating gratitude actually rewires our brain chemistry. Even a simple exercise such as writing down what we are grateful for begins to build new neural connectivity that can lead to more positive thinking and an overall balanced state. What this means is that the more you practice gratitude, the more you default into a grateful state.
The struggle of infertility tears at the heart’s strings. Failed fertility treatments often leave us feeling desperate and in despair. The longer the journey, the more inclined we are to start believing there is something wrong with us. Our sense of self as the problem may begin to dominate the fertility journey, and we start to feel in a constant crisis mode. Negative thoughts and feelings become the default rut in which we exist. We lose touch with feelings like joy, happiness, and gratitude.
Infertility is the perfect opportunity to get back in touch. It’s not easy but it’s doable!
Scientific studies have demonstrated that simple gratitude exercises, such as keeping a journal or sharing daily moments of gratefulness with others, can actually make us feel happier, more positive, and even a little more resilient. Resilience is essential when you are on the fertility journey.
Below are six ways we can cultivate gratefulness in our fertility journeys. But, first of all, one has to understand what is meant by gratitude.
What is gratitude?
Gratitude is defined as the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation. It doesn’t need to be big, expensive, or abundant to evoke gratitude; it can be the littlest thing, even as small as stopping to smell the flowers. It’s not so much the object or experience, but the “intention to notice” behind it.
Once we start to create an appreciation from within, gratitude turns into a tool we can use to alter the way we think and feel. When the window of gratitude is open, it’s hard to close. What happens is that we begin to notice how much has been taken for granted. The process of cultivating gratitude slows us down and brings us back to the present!
Six ways to cultivate gratitude:
This activity is simple and there are specific apps developed that can support the process to feeling more grateful. Writing down three things that we feel grateful for in the morning or in the evening will start to get the mind out of “lacking mode,” which is the opposite of gratitude.
This is moment-to-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and any sensations going on around us—with acceptance. Mindfulness allows a non-judgmental openness toward our experience and to all that is unfolding. When we are mindful, we are more inclined to witness all of our experience as opposed to just focusing on the negative.
Often, when we are in the midst of a struggle, such as infertility, our perspective becomes skewed. A perfect example of this is how it appears to us that everyone around us is pregnant except us. This is not the case, but because we are so fixed on achieving a pregnancy, that is where our focus is going externally. Working with perspective takes courage, practice, and patience. Cognitive restructuring and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are excellent ways of deconstructing perspective.
4) Nature, nature, nature
It’s important to allow ourselves the opportunity to connect with nature. Technology today makes us feel very connected, yet in many other ways disconnected. When we are always inundated with social media, our mood gets influenced. What we see can trigger us. Disconnecting and returning to nature refocuses our energy and can be very healing. A walk in the park or a visit to the beach are excellent ways to rediscover gratitude.
5) Interpersonal Gratitude
Look for opportunities to spread gratitude to others. Nothing makes us feel better than making someone else feel good. Make eye contact with someone and give them a smile. This simple exchange can change someone else’s day, as well as your own.
6) Integrate Forgiveness
Forgiveness has a profound effect on boosting our alpha brain waves. This is an alert state associated with being calm, focused, deeply relaxed, and creative all at the same time. Similar to gratitude, forgiveness alters our neurochemistry. When we are tuned into forgiveness, we let go of judgement, resentment, and anger. This is essential when we are struggling with fertility issues because many different emotions arise. Forgiveness helps us to be more gentle and loving with ourselves as well as those around us.
Cultivating gratitude is a daily practice. Once we begin the practice, we start to internalize a new approach and can grow it big, just like a muscle. Over time, our natural inclination moves toward feeling grateful. The negative emotions associated with infertility are no longer received with fear and judgment. Gratitude reduces toxic emotions such as envy, resentment, and guilt, creating more of a balanced perspective.