When you’re agonizing through a two-week wait, staring down at that negative sign yet again, and repeating the process month after month, baby making can start to take a toll on your emotional state. And if you’ve ever shared with others that you’re trying to conceive, you’ve probably heard the advice, “Just relax and it will happen.” But, “that’s actually some of the worst advice,” says Jean Twenge, PhD, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and author of The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant. “It’s spectacularly unhelpful.” So, how do you “just relax”? Try some of these expert ideas.
Keep a brutally honest journal
It may sound kind of lame—are you having flashbacks to your middle school diary phase?—but Twenge says writing in a journal has been shown to help relieve stress in psychological studies. But don’t just rehash your day—it’s about getting all the complex and negative thoughts off your chest and onto paper (or screen). Secretly worried you could be infertile? That your partner could be? That your younger sister may become a mother before you do? Write it all down. Journaling helps you let it all out, preventing you from “ruminating”—running negative thoughts over and over in your mind—which has been shown to contribute to depression and anxiety.
Reach out to a friend
Do this after you’ve unleashed your feelings into your journal, Twenge says. Talking to a friend can help you de-stress, as long as it’s not a friend who will just encourage more of that “ruminating.” Pick someone in your circle who’s a good listener, but won’t let you mope around or wallow.
Also, it can help to join a local support group or an online board where you can connect with other women who are trying to conceive. “Recognize that you’re not alone in finding this process stressful,” she says.
Use TTC tools
Timing is key when you’re trying to conceive. As Twenge points out, unless you’re one of those people who has sex every day, you’re going to have to track your menstrual cycle and fertility if you want to really boost your odds of getting pregnant. (And ultimately, the longer it takes, the more stressful it gets, right?)
“It’s fairly common for friends and family, if they hear about charting or using ovulation predictor sticks, to say, ‘Why are you doing that? It’s just going to stress you out,’ ” Twenge says. “That’s very untrue. The benefits vastly outweigh the stress it could cause.”
There are plenty of tools, like ovulation predictor kits or basal body temperature thermometers, to help—so use whichever ones you feel comfortable with. This way you can rest easier knowing you’re doing everything you can to get pregnant.
Spending time outdoors has been linked to lower rates of depression and anxiety, so plan some fun activities for you and your partner to do together: Have a picnic, play a game of doubles tennis, head to the pool or, if the weather’s cold, go skiing. Not only will you be spending time getting fresh air (which is a good way to get more vitamin D), it’s also a great way to bond with each other without focusing on your fertility struggles.
Find a mantra
Are you spiritual? A study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing found that repeating a phrase with a spiritual meaning helped people cope with a variety of problems, including anxiety and insomnia. Create a personal mantra based on your own beliefs; choose one that makes you feel calm, and repeat it to yourself throughout the day. Gandhi famously used “rama,” or “eternal joy within,” and you can’t go wrong with “shalom,” which means peace and completeness.
Go for a swim
Time to spring for a beach pass! A Swedish study published in the International Journal of Stress Management found that floating in saltwater triggers the body's relaxation response, which, in turn, helps lower stress hormone levels. After seven weeks, people who regularly relaxed in floating tanks slept better, felt more optimistic and reported having less anxiety, stress and depression.
Use positive language
Even if you’re starting to get discouraged, avoid using negative language and thinking. Twenge suggests what’s called “optimistic explanatory style,” which has been proven to help improve outlook. Basically, stay positive when you talk about conceiving and to yourself. Instead of saying or thinking, “I’m a failure because I can’t get pregnant,” say something like, “I’m doing everything I can to try to get pregnant.” And deep down you know it’s true.
Exercise—but don’t go crazy
Working out is one of the best-known stress relievers, so get out there and exercise. In just one of the many studies on exercise’s positive impact on mood, people scored 25 percent lower on anxiety tests after spending 30 minutes on a treadmill and even showed positive changes in their brain activity.
But remember: You don’t want to overdo it. Extremely vigorous exercise could interfere with ovulation. So listen to your body and know when it’s telling you to take it a little easier.
Take a break—if you need to
If TTC is taking over your life, it’s okay to take a couple of months to regroup. Agree with your partner that you’re taking a “break” from trying to conceive, and focus your energy on something else you love: Sign up to run in a race, plan a road trip or do some volunteer work. Clearing your mind of the TTC process can really benefit some couples.
But if the thought of losing a few months stresses you out even more, then keep going. It’s all about what’s going to make you feel better. And keep in mind, experts recommend seeing a fertility specialist if you’ve been trying for a year—six months if you’re over 35—without success.
Plan “me” time
We know you’re busy, but let’s face it, we all need time to ourselves. It’s a good idea to try and plan some time for you to do something you enjoy on your own. A study from England's University of Sussex found that reading, listening to music or sipping a cup of tea can ease stress. In fact, it takes just six minutes of reading to slow the heart rate and lower tension—all the more reason to grab a good book and head to your favorite cafe.
Have sex —for fun
Remember that person over there—the one you’re trying to make a baby with? You two need some couple time that doesn’t involve talk of cervical mucus or sperm motility.
Plan some dates to spend time together and enjoy yourselves; consider going to see a rom-com or a stand-up comic. Just anticipating a laugh decreases stress hormone levels.
Oh, and have sex! We’re not talking about sex when you get a smiley face on your OPK or when you get “egg whites.” While sex reduces stress, it’s more likely to do so when there isn’t the pressure of trying to conceive. So no matter where you are in your cycle, just do it and enjoy it for what it is.