A Fertility Therapist’s Advice for Coping During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Note: We published this post in April 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two years later, despite the overall progress we have made with the pandemic, much of the coping advice from Dr. Anne Malavé, clinical psychologist and fertility counselor, and then Chair of the Mental Health Professional Group of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, still rings true – perhaps because the essence of the challenges we face on the fertility journey - sense of isolation, disruption, fear and uncertainty - still remains the same.
This Infertility Awareness Week, we are sharing Dr. Malavé’s practical advice again, with the hope that some of her suggestions may help you on the journey.
The virus, social isolation and economic turmoil, cancelled fertility treatments, and anxiety about #ttc during COVID-19 could all easily lead to anxiety, fear, despair and hopelessness.
However, Dr. Anne Malavé, Chair of the Mental Health Professional Group of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine reminds us that this time also brings “opportunities for the development of resilience and post traumatic growth.”
Dr. Malavé suggests, “We need understanding and acceptance, we need to pull together, and we need a plan.”
4 pillars of coping
1. Meaning. We are made to adapt. As human beings, we all have human flaws, we are all social, we all adapt and adjust to our circumstances, and we all create meaning about our experience. With our personal limitations, we need to be kind to one another and to ourselves. With social distancing, we need to ensure that we stay connected. We need to learn new ways to adapt and adjust to our existence. We need to be careful that the meaning we create is not fueled by fear and prejudice, but by hope, the belief in the goodness of others, in our human capacity to change and grow, and in the profound importance of doing our best to maintain continuity for our personal futures and for our loved ones, as well as for our planet.
2. Hope. Hope is essential. In times of great threat, loss, uncertainty, and discontinuity, there is the ever-present danger that we may feel hopeless. At these times, we have to depend on the hope of others. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and this is true of people, who need social groups with which to connect for social support. As members of the same fertility and ttc community, we can and must pull together and gain support from leaning on each other and sharing the load.
3. Community. We are not alone. This statement, which has been profoundly helpful and life-sustaining to anyone who has, for example, experienced infertility or sustained the double blow of a cancer diagnosis and the need for immediate and truncated fertility preservation, is also profoundly important in this pandemic. We are not alone. We are social distancing, but we must remain social. We may work remotely, but we must not be remote.
4. Appreciation. We can survive and thrive. We must and can do more than survive. We can learn how to thrive. We can take this time to learn how to recognize and appreciate the inter-connectedness of our lives. We can learn how to prioritize and value what really matters.
Dr. Malavé’s 25+ recommendations for coping:
- Acknowledge this is an unprecedented threat which may overwhelm your regular capacity to cope.
- Recognize that the invisibility, uncertainty and social isolation may result in normal and expected feelings of panic, fear, terror, helplessness, hopelessness, loss of control, fears for loved ones, financial concerns, and practical issues such as working from home while homeschooling without childcare.
- Validate and accept how extremely difficult this situation is. You are not alone; we are all in this together. Being proactive and having agency is healthy.
- Reach out for (virtual) social support with individuals and groups.
- Initiate regular video conferences with friends and colleagues for Trivia Night, Book or Movie Club, Quiz Night, Consultation and Check-Ins.
- Reach out to old friends and extended family.
- Limit exposure to news and social media.
- Evaluate whether contacts, such as Facebook groups, are helpful or not.
- Limit your contact with people who upset you (if possible).
- Donate money or donate supplies. Help a neighbor.
- Altruism and giving to others is healing.
- Affiliate with a group. It is protective and promotes mental health.
- Exercise – mental and physical – is important.
- Avoid unhealthy habits (smoking, alcohol, using substances), etc.
- Maintain healthy habits of eating, sleeping, and exercise.
- Doing jigsaw puzzles, sudoku, and crossword puzzles can be calming.
- Learn more about the importance of healthy nutrition.
- Add yoga and meditation to your routine. (Check out these 10 Apps to Help you Deal with Stress & Anxiety During the Covid-19 Outbreak)
- Take time to do something you enjoy.
- Develop a daily structure and routine.
- Learn something new, a language or new skill.
- Go on a virtual tour of a museum.
- Be patient and kind with yourself and others. We are all human and we will all experience being at our best and our worst.
- Practice gratitude – one day at a time, one hour at a time.
- Reach out for professional help and utilize hotlines.
- Humor helps.
- Lower your expectations of yourself and others.
- As humans we are social; we adjust and adapt and we make meaning out of our experience. Try to avoid negative and fearful meaning-making.
- We’ve got this. You’ve got this.
Dr. Malavé leaves us with three key mantras as regular reminders:
- “Keep calm and carry on.”
- “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
- “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
- And most importantly: “This, too, shall pass.”
Suggestions by Anne Malavé, Ph.D., Chair of the MHPG, 2019-2020, as published by ASRM Covid-19 Communications and available as a video here.
Mental Health Professionals are trained to work with all the fears and anxieties and losses–and the whole range of human experience. If you feel anxious, depressed or you are struggling to cope, please contact your own doctor and/or seek the advice of a trained professional.
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