As a new year rolls in, we often find ourselves in a dual state of thought: reflecting on the year gone by and looking ahead at our hopes and dreams for the year to come.
This can be especially hard when you’re trying to conceive (TTC) where thoughts may turn to the fact that last year’s endeavours did not result in a long-awaited baby, and wondering whether this year will finally be your year.
But the beginning of a new year can actually be a great time to reflect on your attitude towards your TTC journey so far, and to think about how you are going to approach the next 12 months in a way that feels healthy, positive and motivational.
Depending on where you are in your own fertility journey, this may be easier said than done. Breezing into the new year full of joy and enthusiasm may feel like a mammoth task, especially if you’ve been trying for a while, but actually something as simple as changing your language and the way you think and talk about your TTC experiences –both to yourself and others – can be transformative when it comes to your mental wellbeing.
The importance of language when it comes to your mental wellbeing:
If you’ve ever found yourself agonising over a text, email, card or letter; constantly re-reading, re-wording and thinking about how the recipient might receive what you’ve said, then you have some idea of just how important words are.
We use words to describe ourselves and the world around us, and the choice of words we use in the stories we tell ourselves and others affects our behaviour, emotions and the depth of our experiences.
When TTC you may find you’ve gotten into a pattern of using overly-negative language to describe your circumstances: you ‘have to’ go to the clinic again, the treatment you’re enduring is ‘horrible’, you ‘can’t do this anymore’.
But this type of language is actually having a detrimental effect on your mental processes. When we hear or think negative words, the fear centre of our brain is activated and our bodies produce stress-releasing hormones and neurotransmitters that impair our ability to reason logically. However, when we use and hear positive language it stimulates our brain’s cognitive functions, increasing motivation and resilience, helping us to see the good in ourselves and others.
By making a conscious effort to review and change the language you use about your fertility, you will strengthen those areas of your brain that help you to feel more able to cope.
Challenging your negative self-talk:
To make a start on changing the language you are using to think and talk about your fertility and TTC journey, you first need to address your self-talk. Self-talk, or inner speech is the running commentary we engage in as we go about our daily lives: ‘gosh it’s so cold today, I wish I’d brought gloves; did I leave my hair straighteners on?; I must remember to get milk on the way home…’ etc.
This little chat going on inside our heads is how we organise, plan and problem solve, and how we reflect on the world around us. Our inner voice can often be funny, upbeat and cheerful. On the other hand it can be negative, critical, and self-defeating.
As human beings we are often prone to negative self-talk, it’s an evolutionary feature of how we have survived all these years – by being wary and listening to our instincts. But whilst useful on many occasions, too much negativity can actually distort our perception of the world, leaving us depressed, overwhelmed, and anxious.
When TTC you may find you’ve become locked in a destructive pattern of negative self-talk, perhaps beating yourself up with internal comments such as ‘i’m obviously not meant to be a mum’ or ‘I don’t deserve to be happy’.
Now imagine saying those things out loud to someone else … not very nice, right? And yet we get stuck in patterns of saying these negative things to ourselves, which can really chip away at our mental health, leading to low mood, low self-esteem, lack of motivation, and feelings of helplessness – which makes trying to conceive feel even harder.
Here’s some top tips for challenging your negative self-talk about TTC:
Pay attention to your self-talk and when you catch yourself inwardly saying something negative, try and reframe this thought with something more positive to re-train your brain to respond in this way instead. You can jot these down to work on if it helps. You can even challenge these thoughts further by asking yourself, am I being overly-negative? How likely is it that this statement is really true? What evidence do I have to the contrary?
Address yourself in the third person:
Doing this can help you create a bit of distance from the negative commentary. It’s like imagining how you’d respond to say, a friend or loved one, allowing you to offer more compassion to yourself.
Interrupt the narrative:
When you catch yourself talking badly about you and your TTC journey, interrupt the conversation, tell the negative voice it’s wrong and offer a different, more realistic appraisal as a bit of a pep talk. For example, instead of ‘I’m so useless, I can’t keep doing this’ interrupt with ‘now come on, I’ll not have you saying things like that, you’re awesome. you’ve come so far, and learned so much, yes it didn’t work this time and that’s truly awful, but you can keep going, you’re strong’.
Remember, it can take a bit of practice to overhaul your language for good, so don’t beat yourself up if it takes a while – even just noticing when you are using negative language is a great first step in making these changes. To help you get in the habit of positively reframing, try practicing every day and maybe make a note of the new empowering language and phrases that can replace your old negative ones. You could also try asking your partner, a family member or friend to tell you if they notice you being overly-negative outwardly, so you can check in on what’s going on with your inner voice.
Once you get used to creating more positive inner language to describe your TTC journey, you’ll start using your new language more with others too. You’ll find you have a healthier, happier brain that is more resilient, motivated and more positive about what lies ahead – ready to take on whatever 2020 may bring you.
About the author
Aimée has a background in Forensic Psychology, working as a behavioural andfamily therapist before becoming an editor for Penguin Random House. Specialising in non-fiction, she has edited bestselling books from world-class experts in their field. Most recently she has commissioned self-help titles covering natural remedies, parenting, and mindfulness.