Take a Time-Out to Control Your Stress
Liken the accumulation of stress from infertility to a traffic accident in which the first car stops suddenly. No one has been injured and the damage from the two-car accident is contained, but neither of the parties has put out flares signalling danger. As a result, each successive car behind them piles up, multiplying the level of damage. Similarly, small signs of stress like nail-biting or cranky behaviour, may seem harmless, but you dont have to be falling apart to internalize damage. If your ultimate goal is to become pregnant, your initial, short term goal must be to lower your level of stress, clearing a space for the work to begin. Then, keep it clear throughout your attempt to conceive.
If you are aware of areas of your life in which stress shows up, the next step is to acknowledge the stressor and change your response to it. When you feel your personal signs of stress creeping up, you can deal with them on the spot by practicing this short visualization technique I call a time-out.
Time-Out I call this visualization a time-out because all it takes is excusing yourself for a few minutes. When you become practiced at it, it feels like you have had a mini-holiday. It is useful in a few ways.
- Replacement – By focusing on an image in your minds eye, you block out the image corresponding to your stressor.
- Relief – Placing yourself within the positive image/scenario you have chosen, and imagining its sights, sounds, smells and tastes, helps to break the emotional connection you felt in response to the stressor.
- Rapid – Its a quick fix, free of cost and no prescription needed.
- Restorative – It is very empowering. Mastering the visualization allows you to re-gain control of your stress and restore calm.
Take Two – A 2-minute visualization exercise can be slipped into your daily life without attracting attention. Whether you are working, busy with your family, at a party or involved in a project, it is easy to slip away for two minutes at a time. Any Time, Anywhere Privacy and safety are the two required elements, in order to allow you to break the connection with your current environment. Be creative; you can find privacy in the busiest places: empty offices, walk-in closets, the loo or even sitting in the car on your own driveway. In order to reach that quiet space inside, it may take four or five minutes at first, but with some practice, you will be able to reduce the time it takes to regain control to about two minutes. Please use caution and do not practice it while driving. Pull the car over to the side of the road if necessary. Define Your Image Close your eyes. Isolate a specific image, real or fantasy, which evokes a 100% positive feeling. If an image of your last beach vacation, however lovely, brings up the nagging feeling that you didnt look great in your bikini, it isnt the right image for this exercise. Your image can be a frozen moment in time, such as the kiss at your wedding ceremony, or a conjured image of a beautiful place you will go in the future. Let your mind play on this image, vivid detail and colour, sharpening the detail. Imagine that you can smell the air, hear the sounds and even taste something that is evocative of the memory or fantasy of your choice. This image should make you smile. The emotions evoked by your image might be peace, happiness, confidence, contentment, hope or a mixture of other positive feelings. Write Your Story Silently, describe the scene to yourself as if narrating a script. For example: I am dressed in white, on the silvery-grey, wooden deck of my house. I am looking down at miles of virtually empty beach. The ocean is deep blue and turquoise; the sky melts into the horizon. The late afternoon sun is making millions of white, jewelled ribbons dance on the water. I see a few people walking or sitting and enjoying the peaceful day. Now you know mine; its your turn. Make it as real in your mind as you can. Are your feet bare? What is the surface under your feet? Is your skin cool, warm or hot? What do you hear, smell and taste? Are you alone, or with others?A Good Place
To Begin Every Day – Use your Time-Out to start each day until it becomes habit and you can fit the exercise into two minutes. This works well for clearing any non-specific stress; you know, the feeling that you want to crawl back under the duvet rather than face the day. A good place for this is in your morning shower, because its private, you feel the pleasant sensation of the water and it blocks out most noise.
Step by step:
- Relax – Close your eyes and breathe fully and slowly several times. Concentrate on your breathing for as long as it takes to empty your mind enough to begin the visualization. Invite your positive image into your mind, filling out the frame with the context that envelops that beautiful image.
- Drop yourself in to your visualization. If you are a fan of Star Trek, you can imagine beaming down to the planet. I prefer to use a different technique: It feels as if an artist suddenly changed a 2-dimensional picture into a 3-dimensional environment that you can enter. Imagine that image slip like a liquid over your head and down your body until you see yourself clothed and positioned as you were during the first Time-Out.
- Become One with your image – Focus on and isolate each part of your body and feel them connect with the physicality of air, earth or water in the place you imagine yourself to be. Direct your mind to travel up your body, recognizing the sensations you feel, from toes to shoulders, and then out to each hand, up your neck and to your head.
- Emotionally connect to your image allow yourself to recognize the feelings conjured by your visualization. This is like getting into character for your own dramatic performance. Are you: euphorically in love? Flush with success? Comforted by an embrace? Peaceful and still? Dazzled by beauty? Exhilarated by speed?
- Lock it all in – Bring your arms up and wrap them around yourself. First you were part of a positive image; now draw that positivity into you and lock it in with a hug. I find that the physical embrace centres and comforts me. Try it, especially if you have been feeling tired, lonely, fearful or shaky. If you are not in a private enough space, you may feel it is enough to just clasp your two hands together in a firm grip.
- Acknowledge that you will have challenges during the day and that you are strong enough to embrace them without fear of over-reacting. Then, shake your arms out and slowly open your eyes.
- Repeat your visualization however often you feel the need.
If ever you cant relax enough to bring up your Time-Out image, use props and your other senses to give you a prompt:
- When you open your eyes, write down what you saw in your minds eye, in a very descriptive way. This is one place that the gratitude journal really comes in handy. Knowing that you are doing something positive for yourself is very empowering. The physicality of writing and seeing your description on paper will further anchor the image and your positive response to it, and you will have it to look back at if need be.
- Practice your visualization while holding a talisman in your hand. Then whenever you feel stress rising, hold and rub it between your fingers. I use a tiny silver ball with the faint, twinkling sound of chimes, to trigger both visual and auditory memories of my happy place.
I would be very interested to hear from you about your use of the Time-Out exercise; what your image is and how well it works as a stress reliever.