4 Neuroscientific Things To Do That Will Make You Happier in Infertility
Cheers, dear readers,
Along the infertility journey, there are many unpredictable and often quite uncomfortable twists and turns. There are definitely days where all feelings of happiness felt like they had been swept away from me never to return – like a vacuum had sucked them from my soul. If you are a Harry Potter fan, think of the Dementors who would suck all of the joy and happy thoughts from you. That is a great metaphor for what it felt like many moments of navigating dealing with an infertility diagnosis and all that transpires after that fateful day. You start to want someone to throw you a life preserver to help save you from all of those awful thoughts and feelings that crop up of inadequacy, shame, confusion, and dismay.
Recently a friend posted this article that I thought expertly gave many insights on how to take action to become a happier, more balanced person based on actual scientific fact. My mind immediately went to sharing it with our audience here. Our mission here at Slow Swimmers & Fried Eggs is to provide support, encouragement, and much needed advice for you along your journey, while also helping you feel less alone. You have a friend here with us, and we want to help you as much as we can with every post, and every audio interview.
So… what if I told you, you could create an upward spiral of happiness in your life, no matter what life hurls at you? Scientific evidence has proof on how to do just that. I’d like to share with you a brief summary of the main points from this excellent article, and highlight for you how it could help you on your journey through the infertility jungle.
1) Ask Yourself: What Am I Grateful For? – Experiencing guilt, shame, and excessive worry activates the reward center of our brain, which is what makes them so attractive and alluring. For example with worry, at least we are doing something about what we are concerned about. But these are horrible long-term solutions to our problems. How do we counteract this? By searching for what we are grateful for in our lives, and expressing this gratitude to our loved ones. This increases our emotional intelligence, as well as the happy making hormones dopamine and serotonin in our systems. So go search for the things that you are grateful for to focus on the positive aspects of your life and help create a positive feedback loop in your relationships. I highly recommend the Five-Minute Journal phone app.
2) Label Negative Emotions – When we put our feelings into words – even awful feelings – we recognize those feelings into our consciousness and thus reduce their impact. Suppressing unpleasant emotions simply makes them worse (because they are still there), and then they can come out “sideways” on an unsuspecting loved one. So describing an emotion in just a few words helps reduce the arousal aspect of that emotion. This labeling is often employed in meditation and in mindfulness practice. So give those emotions a name, and your brain isn’t so bothered by them anymore. Perhaps the challenging feeling you are having is around stress – that brings us to…
3) Make That Decision – Science indicates that when we make a decision, we help reduce worry, anxiety, and help solve problems as well as help our brain finally feel at rest. We could all use more of that, eh? Creating intentions and setting goals also falls under the “make that decision” category to help reduce anxious thoughts and stress in your life. Science also shows that since decision-making can be hard in and of itself, make a “good enough” decision to help feel more in control. Perfectionism increases stress and can delay making decisions at all. When we make a decision and feel more in control, it not only reduces stress, but also activates pleasure centers in the brain. So go for good enough instead of “best decision ever made on the planet.” Actively choosing a course of action helps release more happy-making hormones of dopamine. The feeling of choice (versus feeling like we “have to” or “should”) helps give us a pleasure boost. “We don’t just choose the things we like, we like the things we choose.”
4) Hug, Hugs, Hugs – We all need to feel acceptance and love from others. When we don’t feel this, it can actually cause physical pain (not just feelings of awkwardness or disappointment but actual pain!). Rejection and social exclusion don’t just hurt like a broken heart – the body and our brains experience it more like a broken leg! Thriving relationships greatly add to our happiness, and the sense of touch increases this sense of well-being by releasing oxytocin. Touching is incredibly powerful – more than we realize. It can be in the form of handshakes, a pat on the back, but if you want the most powerful stuff, go for long, meaningful hugs with people you are close to. In fact, touching someone you love actually reduces pain. For example, holding hands with a loved one such as a spouse or dear friend can help comfort and soothe you and your brain through painful situations. So go hug someone today with a long, deep hug! Research shows that five hugs a day for four weeks helps increase your happiness BIG TIME! Also massages count in the happy physical touch category by also releasing endorphins into our systems. Lastly, talking on the phone or visiting loved ones is also extremely helpful, and trumps texting – which science shows the body experiences as no support at all!
Much of the research from this article came from the book The Upward Spiral that details how to turn depression around. I found myself dealing with depression partly as a result of my infertility journey. In case this book could help you, here’s the description:
“Depression can feel like a downward spiral, pulling you into a vortex of sadness, fatigue, and apathy. In The Upward Spiral, neuroscientist Alex Korb demystifies the intricate brain processes that cause depression and offers a practical and effective approach to getting better. Based on the latest research in neuroscience, this book provides dozens of straightforward tips you can do every day to rewire your brain and create an upward spiral towards a happier, healthier life.”
For a personal experience of how social exclusion affects us, read this post.
Your homework from reading this post (thank you for reading this post, by the way) is to send one thank you email. This will give you a happiness boost by expressing gratitude and planting seeds for a future hug. So send a thank you email to make you and someone you care about very happy.
Please join me next week to hear more about my personal journey down the infertility path. I look forward to speaking with you. I wish you the best on your journey.