Pacing Yourself for the Long Run

Here's how to manage long-term stress.

Posted Oct 24, 2018

Source: istock/praetorianphoto

Stress comes in many forms. Our stress response does not. Our brain goes on high alert, and our body get ready for fight or flight. The response may be life-saving in the short run but exhausting in the long run. Pacing yourself for any long run in life, particularly unanticipated events such as fertility treatments or a financial crisis, requires psychological pre-planning.

The good news is that there are a lot of strategies you can use to help yourself manage chronically-stressful situations like infertility; the downside is it takes time for them to kick in. Take these small steps to help you through the long runs. 

Find a new perspective
If you are more upset about your own fertility problems than about a friend’s loss or a disaster in the news, don’t feel guilty. If you want to avoid your sister during the holidays because she has two kids, don’t feel ashamed. If you want to skip a co-worker’s baby shower, don’t feel selfish. If being around kids is a trigger for you, you are not alone. Most women going through any long-term fertility treatment feel the same way. The long run is hard enough without having a load of guilt weighing you down at the same time. Listen to what you need mentally, and don’t feel guilty for skipping or missing something.

Address the short-term symptoms before they escalate
We are actually built to cope with short-runs of stress, like a tough work week and then two days of rest. But suppose the stress is dealing with a fertility or chronic health problem, and there is no rest or recovery time.  And then suppose the unexpected pops up such as a difficult client or assignment, a hospitalized parent, or a financial crisis. Because such unexpected problems are inevitable, so are long-term stress symptoms like:

  • Hyperventilation means your breathing is rapid and shallow to get oxygen to your brain and muscles quickly for short-term emergencies, but when it’s a long run, you may feel dizziness, dry mouth, stomach aches, and even chest pains.
    • Tip: To help alleviate this, sit comfortably in a chair and count back from 20, exhaling after each count. Let your belly, not your chest, rise and fall as you breathe — and pause for a moment after each breath. You can find this break in between meetings, at the doctor’s office, or in the elevator.
  • Hyper-vigilance means your brain is on high alert. After a while, expect to be startled easily, have trouble concentrating or multitasking, and trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
    • Tip: Try to bore your brain when it's time to sleep or relax — like re-reading a book or listening to familiar music slower than your heartbeat. Your brain can relax temporarily when you know what's coming next.
  • Hyperactivity means your muscles are ready for flight and your adrenaline is ready to fight. After prolonged stress, expect jitters, twitches, muscles spasms and a stiff neck or back.
    • Tip: Try to tire yourself physically to use up the adrenaline. Even cleaning out your closet or desk drawer will help, since it will increase your sense of control and burn up adrenaline at the same time.  

It’s important to recognize the long-term stress symptoms and ways to deal with each. Find the right physical activity that will help you cope emotionally.

Keep it simple
If you are going through any long-term stress, particularly one that involves treatments, multiple doctors visit and a steep cost like IVF or IUI, make your life easier, not more difficult. Even small decisions like what to wear or what to order for lunch may become difficult, so try to avoid big decisions such as moving or changing jobs. Also, avoid multitasking because your brain is currently preoccupied with your long-term problem, which means it may be difficult to complete multiple tasks at once.

Say what you need
You may be a private person, you might want to face this alone and you might not like asking for help. But the reality is you need your support system during this time and they can’t help you unless you tell them.

If you aren’t used to asking for help, here are a few ways to get started:

  • Give some thought on what would make you feel better. “I don’t know” isn’t a real answer, so dig deep till you find an answer.
  • Share it with your loved ones. If you don’t know how to begin, try one of these approaches:
    • “I would love it if you_____”
    • “Please help me by _____”
    • “When you ___, I feel so much better”
  • Share this journey with someone you trust or someone with a similar experience. This will help reduce your stress levels by talking about your situation out loud. To read more about the benefits of talking, here’s a recent article I wrote about the power of talking.

Find the pockets of joy and allow yourself to laugh
Your body and brain may need a break and allowing yourself to laugh is nature’s inborn stress relievers. Laughter can help reduce anxiety and fear and by deliberately putting some pleasure back into your life can help you through this journey. You won’t be jinxing the results if you give yourself permission to think about something other than your fertility journey and to deliberately put some pleasure back in your life.

Ease your mind through mindfulness and meditation
Every article about lasting through long-term stress reminds us that focusing on the present, rather than re-living the past or pre-living the future, will help get us through a difficult journey by taking it one day at a time.

  • Mindfulness asks you to purposely slow down your thoughts and connect with the here and now. It could be appreciating the warmth of the sun, the aroma of cookies on the table, the conversation you are in, etc. Find ways to appreciate the present to help you from worrying about the future.
  • Meditation requires about 20 minutes a day in a quiet location where you will sit in a comfortable position and focus on rhythmic breathing, letting your mind clear by having your thoughts pass through your mind without focusing on any one thing. If you need assistance getting started with meditation, check out Progyny’s track through Happify.

In the end, long-term stress can take a toll on you mentally and physically. It’s important to recognize how to pace yourself during this time and seek the help that you need. If you find yourself needing more help, don’t hesitate to look up a therapist or professional.