To the uninitiated, the two-week wait (2WW) -- the stretch between ovulation and the moment when a home pregnancy test might provide reliable feedback -- may not sound like torture.
But anyone who has longed to see two lines, a cross or a big fat "positive" (BFP) pop up, knows how interminable those days feel. There's impatience (Can I test now? Now?), anxiety (What if it never happens?) and, frequently, sadness (I can't believe we're back here again). Nothing will entirely zap those feelings, but here are nine coping strategies that might help you make it through fourteen long days:
1. Step away from the computer.
This one's tricky, said Jean Twenge, Ph.D, author of "The Impatient Woman's Guide to Getting Pregnant" and a professor of psychology at San Diego State University. On the one hand, message boards can provide enormous comfort and camaraderie, as well as useful information. "But only a certain percentage is going to be true," Twenge said. "Some of the posters are really well informed; others don't know what they're talking about." Many women have a tendency to obsessively Google symptoms, which is a form of rumination -- a word whose root comes from cows, chewing cud over and over .. and over. That kind of relentless pondering is "highly linked to anxiety and depression," Twenge warned.
Social media can also be bad news during the two-week wait, said Susan Allen, a licensed marriage and family therapist in California who focuses on infertility. "People say, 'I can't see one more photo; it's wounding to see that,'" she said. "It's hard, your peer group is moving on and you're in this space where you don't fit in with them in the way you did before." She recommends that women in her fertility support groups limit their Facebook and Instagram time.
The key, both experts said, is to try and be honest with yourself about how you're using the internet. If reading the boards helps you, carry on. But if, "when you're working, you have this almost addictive need to go back on the boards and see, 'I wonder what happened to this woman. Is she pregnant yet?'" Twenge said, you're likely just adding to your stress and anxiety levels.
2. Distract, distract, distract. (And plan for it.)
Staying off the Internet is, of course, much easier said than done. To give yourself a fighting chance, distraction is essential, as is a game plan for how you're going to actually go about it.
"Say you have a favorite author -- go and search for good books, but put off reading them until the two-week wait, then get yourself involved in them," Twenge said. Same goes for that TV series you've been wanting to binge watch, or that new class or restaurant you've been wanting to try -- plan ahead and make sure your wait is packed with engrossing activities that don't allow your mind to wander too much.
3. Write it down.
Again, trying not to ruminate is hard. But Twenge, who personally struggled with not obsessing while trying to conceive, said that writing in a journal can help. "It will be your ruminative, obsessive thoughts, but there's something about putting them down on paper that helps," she said.
Twenge said you can write your thoughts down throughout the day as they pop up. But a better technique, in her opinion, is to do it all at once -- "for 20 minutes straight, or however long it takes you to get all of the things that are turning over and over in your mind (How good was our timing? What did the doctor say about our treatment? How many months has it been?) put down on paper, and out of your head."
4. Name your feelings.
It might feel strange, but the concept of naming your feelings -- a technique common in meditation -- is about containing that feeling, Allen said, rather than letting it overwhelm you. "When you're having many obsessive thoughts, like, Oh, I didn't do that right, or What if this doesn't happen, you get caught up in this narrative. If you can name it, so, 'I'm anxious' or 'I'm worried, I really want this,' you distract from attacking the feelings, and it just kind of feels more manageable," Allen said.
5. Stroll. Sleep. Take care of yourself.
Sometimes something as simple as putting one foot in front of the other can help boost your mood and get you out of your own head -- if only for a few minutes. Twenge stressed the importance of paying attention to your overall well-being throughout the wait: Exercise, get to bed 15 to 30 minutes earlier than you did the night before, spend time with friends and get out in the sun, all of which can help with feelings of anxiety and depression.
You don't have to become a health nut. "Gentle walking outside in nature is huge, cooking healthy food, reading fiction -- anything you can do that is part of regular self-care can help," said Allen. And there's the added bonus that if you do get pregnant, you're off to a good start.
6. Give yourself sad days.
Every month that the two-week waits ends in a negative feels like a loss, Allen said, and women should give themselves the time and space to honor their sadness -- which is particularly challenging, when there's this "quick refocus" on the next cycle. If you're sad, be sad. Don't beat yourself up over it. Talk to a friend, partner or therapist (maybe over some sushi, with a glass of wine ... things you'll likely be warned about during pregnancy), Allen said. Get your feelings down in a journal or a letter to your future child or to yourself -- you don't have to send it.
7. Try an intention.
Setting a daily intention -- like, "I let go of things outside of my control," Allen suggested, or "I'm doing everything I can to become pregnant," -- is, itself, a form of distraction from negative emotions. If it works for you, you can develop a more formal practice -- sitting in the morning, and repeating a mantra -- but it doesn't have to be that concrete at all, Allen said. "A big piece of it is just having it on a post-it note, or having it on your computer so you can remind yourself," she said.
8. Practice a relaxation technique.
"Obviously relaxation is huge in any kind of psychotherapy these days -- focusing on the breath, taking that pause," Allen said. But too often, people try and use a technique in the moment when they haven't developed the skill yet. And yes, it's a skill, according to Twenge. "You have to practice when you're not anxious," she said, explaining that it can be whatever works for you -- deep breathing, visualizations, yoga, meditation. Though they can certainly help foster a sense of calm that seeps into your day-to-day life, relaxation techniques are particularly useful in the moment -- when you're waiting for a phone call from the fertility doctor, or are just about to pee on a stick.
9. Try defensive pessimism.
In her book, Twenge urges women to consider tempering their expectations, up to a point. "For something partially out of your control like getting pregnant, being optimistic can sometimes really mess you up," she writes. Studies have shown that defensive pessimism -- approaching a stressful situation (i.e., getting pregnant) with lowered expectations -- can help bolster well-being and lower anxiety. If you tell yourself it's likely to take six months or more to get pregnant, you'll be pleasantly surprised if it happens right away, Twenge writes, and better prepared, emotionally, if it doesn't.
If you're a naturally optimistic person, there is no reason to try and change your energy. "Finding that middle ground is the best place to be," Allen said.
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