Guest blog by Jennifer, a fertility and faith blogger.
Several years ago, before we even began trying to conceive or had any idea that we’d struggle with infertility, I read this book by Dr. Caroline Leaf called Switch on Your Brain. It reported, “75 to 98 percent of mental, physical, and behavioral illness comes from one’s thought life.” She gave shocking statistics—for instance, that stress is a factor in 75% of illnesses and diseases. She then argued that we have the potential to change and rewire our brains with how we think.
You might think those statistics are crazy, but I believe them.
Since then, I read another book called The Blue Zones, by Dan Buettner. If you haven’t heard of the Blue Zones, they are little pockets of the world where people live much longer than anywhere else on earth. Dan set out to figure out why. Although much of his focus was on diet, it was the other things the Blue Zones had in common that struck me: People who live the longest live at a slower pace of life, in community with one another. They have a sense of purpose and they are positive people.
Since then, I’ve been making connections between Dr. Caroline Leaf’s ideas, Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones, and my own general health and fertility.
No, I don’t believe that endometriosis or PCOS or unexplained infertility is caused by a negative attitude. And no, I don’t believe that shifting to a positive attitude alone can get you pregnant. But I do believe that lifestyle and mental changes can increase pregnancy rates; that infertility treatments can have better outcomes when you change your lifestyle and way of thinking. And I believe that positive thinking can make us healthier people in general.
So how do we become more positive, especially when we are in infertility crisis mode and it seems all the odds are stacked against us? Borrowing from ideas from both Dr. Leaf and Dan Buettner’s books, here are 5 ways to become a healthier, more positive person as you go through infertility:
1. Create a moai. In Okinawa, Japan (one of the Blue Zones), children at a young age form moais—groups of 4-5 people who commit to supporting each other for life. They meet together weekly to talk and support one another—literally for as long as they live. The friendships formed give people a deep sense of belonging, as well as a safety net should anyone experience hardship. Although it’s a little late in life to form a true moai now, connect with people who can give you support. Going through infertility can be extremely isolating—especially when all of your friends are pregnant or have babies. It’s really easy to overlook the need to talk about infertility with other people—be it a support group, a friend you can trust who has gone through this, or even a group online.
2. “Catch” negative thoughts. Dr. Leaf outlines a 21-day plan to change the way that you think. She argues that simply repeating positive affirmations to yourself randomly can actually do more harm than good. Instead, she says to take about 7 minutes out of your day, and do these 5 steps: 1. Gather all of the negative thoughts that usually consume you + replace them with positive ones. 2. Reflect on the positive thoughts only. 3. Write everything down. 4. Revisit the positive thoughts again. 5. Retrain your brain throughout the day (what she calls the “active reach” step). When you start to think negative thoughts, become conscious of them and replace them with the positive thoughts you outlined earlier. (By the way, her book is an amazing combination of both science + Biblical scripture!)
3. Slow down. Both Dr. Leaf and Dan Buettner make the case that healthier living is slower living. People in the Blue Zones are immersed in what they are doing at the present moment. They do not multitask. (In these times we are living in now, doesn’t it seem that we brag about how well we can multitask?) Living at a slower pace reduces stress.
4. Be grateful. Begin a gratitude journal if you don’t have one already. It is way too easy to focus on all of the negativity of infertility. Like Dr. Leaf’s 21-day plan, being grateful is a way to combat negative thinking. It retrains your brain to be on the lookout for positive things rather than negative ones.
5. Find your purpose. In the Blue Zones, everyone has a sense of purpose. Retirement and laziness don’t exist—the older generation has something to offer too. If you think the sole purpose of your life is to have children, I believe you are mistaken. For me, faith in God has helped me to realize the greater purpose I have. Having children may be a part of that, or it may not; either way, my greater purpose does not rest on the ability to have children. That realization has made all the difference.
Jennifer has been married to her husband for 5 years and TTC for 2. She has been officially diagnosed with “unexplained infertility” and is still exploring natural + holistic ways of achieving pregnancy. She is passionate about encouraging others to grow their faith in the midst of infertility. For infertility Bible studies, devotionals, and to follow her story, check out contentmentandchaos.com.