By: Audrey Grazi, LCSW
As our community begins to better understand the benefits of addressing their mental health and wellbeing, seeking therapy has become more popular for those who want to work on self-growth, self-improvement, and self-awareness. With so many options for treatment modalities available and countless well-educated mental health professionals to choose from, individuals can now more easily find the right match for them.
The stigma surrounding mental health is slowly lessening, and the opportunity to join group therapy and group workshops is growing. Feeling connected to others in your experiences can have the potential for much support and commonality when you are in pain or even when you want to gain insight and perspective. Group therapy provides the opportunity for an expert facilitator to work with group members facing a common struggle, such as anxiety, depression, trauma, bereavement, or emotional dysregulation. Within this community, it has proven to help those who are going through their journey of infertility, loss, and postpartum depression and anxiety.
From the onset of the SBH Fertility Support Program, it was apparent that in order to help women and men feel understood and less isolated, a support group needed to be included in the program. We have established support groups for women experiencing infertility or loss along with support groups for women going through postpartum depression and/or anxiety in order to better educate our clients about the impacts of their thoughts and emotions. Through cognitive behavioral therapy intervention along with mind-body techniques, we are teaching our clients how to reduce stress and anxiety. As we enter the fourth cycle of group therapy for infertility and loss, the impact and the feedback from the group experience has been incredibly positive! Each week 6 to 10 women get together, learn new techniques and discuss how they are using the interventions learned in group therapy throughout their incredible journeys. At the final session, we invite the husbands to join their wives to discuss the impact that infertility or loss has had on them. It is important to remember that their experiences and emotions are also valid, and our group provides a space for them to feel heard and encouraged.
As a group facilitator, I have had the privilege of watching multiple incredible groups of women interact with one another. They have the opportunity to share similar situations, and they can effectively come together to provide each other with acceptance, reassurance, and encouragement. This decreases feelings of isolation and stigma, promotes problem solving, accesses strengths, develops common interests, provides information and education, facilitates mutual aid, changes attitudes and behaviors and allows participants to find new ways of relating to others. The fertility and loss support group offers diversity among women with different personalities and different backgrounds, which helps shed light on ideas through a new lens. By understanding how other people tackle problems and make positive changes, both women and men in the group can discover a whole range of strategies for facing their own concerns.
Research shows that through a combination of both cognitive behavioral therapy and mind-body techniques, therapy can have a positive impact on the way we feel and behave. When going through infertility or loss journeys, women can feel an immense amount of stress and anxiety. When these feelings become too intense, it can be hard to have the clarity and calm needed in order to make decisions, relax muscle tension, reduce worry, and feel positive. The mind-body techniques learned in group therapy help women see the connection between mind and body and showcase the value of our emotions and the impact they have on us physically.
Emotions serve a function, so it is important to pay attention to what you are feeling. We experience emotions physically with our facial expressions, body language, words and sensations. When emotions are very intense, it engages our sympathetic part of our nervous system. This is the part of our body that responds with the fight, flight, or freeze reaction which includes sweating, heart racing, muscle tension, chills, reddening of the face, etc. When we are in this mode, we lose clarity and can become impulsive, reactive, or even lethargic and shut down. It is helpful to learn quick strategies to help empower us to counteract the sympathetic nervous system and engage the parasympathetic part of our nervous system. This part of our nervous system calms and relaxes us. The following are just a few of the techniques learned in our fertility and loss support group.
Regulating intense emotions involves immediately lowering your body temperature by creating a mini plunge pool for your face. It activates the body’s dive response, a reflex that happens when you cool your nostrils while holding your breath, dampening your physiological and emotional intensity. To do this, fill a large bowl with ice water, set a time for 15-30 seconds, take a deep breath and hold your breath while dipping your face into the water. This can slow your heart rate, allowing blood to flow more easily to your brain. If a bowl of water is not available, I suggest carrying around an ice pack that gets activated when you hit it hard and putting it over your cheeks while taking a deep breath. It may feel strange to do, but it can really help when you need to lower intensity quickly and effectively.
Another way to engage the parasympathetic nervous system to feel calm and more relaxed is by using a skill called paced breathing. When we slow down our inhale and exhale it can have physiological benefits like reducing blood pressure, which helps promote a sense of tranquility. It works by setting a timer to 2 minutes and timing the inhale breath to 4 seconds, taking a slight pause and taking a longer exhale, for 7 seconds, taking about 6 breaths a minute. When you feel panicked you can use what your body does naturally, breathing, to help you feel less tense. There are many different apps on your phone that will help set the pace for you, so you do not have to count. My advice is to practice this every day for 2 minutes so when you need it the most, you can easily access the skill. Remember, when emotions are intense, clarity is something you may find challenging to have, so by having the skill at your fingertips, it will help make a tremendous impact on your need to quickly regulate.
Using guided imagery can reduce tension and stress. By using our five senses, we can create an image in our mind that will make us think it is real in the moment. Think about a lemon -focus on its texture and color. Imagine cutting it in half and squeezing out the juice. Think about the smell of the lemon. Finally, think about the taste…your mouth may start to water and pucker! The power of guided imagery can help us imagine serene and safe places that we have seen or even places that we create for ourselves. When we use our sense of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell, our mind will take us to our safe place. Once there, we can begin to calm down and manage our stress and anxiety instead of these strong emotions controlling us. My favorite place for imagery is the beach or a crackling fireplace. Use your imagination to go wherever you can to be able to experience the peace and serenity you need to calm down.
Its helpful to experiment with quick strategies that will empower you. These tips and strategies are not necessarily a cure for problems and issues that arise, but they can help to lower the intensity of overwhelming emotions and allow you to recalibrate to better deal with challenges you face.
For women experiencing infertility, loss, or postpartum depression or anxiety, the SBH Fertility Support Program is here to help. If you would like to hear more about our support groups, please call 718-787-1100 x 335.
To connect with Audrey, please visit https://grazicounseling.com/ or call 917-723-4521.
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