Create your FERTILITY vision board

Vision boards are a tool that help you identify and clarify goals that you would like to achieve and keep you on track to manifest them. To make them you select words, images, and colours that reflect your visions and desires for the future.

Use any pictures and words that really jump out and speak to you. You can use magazine clippings and photos but also your own writings and drawings. Get the creative juices flowing and approach your fertility or TTC (trying to conceive) journey in a different fun, enjoyable way. During the process you might also find out a few new things you didn’t know about yourself.

You might want to put your vision board up somewhere in your home so you are reminded of what you want to focus on during this journey. Goals may be to successfully fall pregnant, give birth to a healthy baby, find relaxation and stress relief, maintain/ or improve your well-being, strengthen the relationship with your partner/spouse etc.

To create your own fertility vision board in a supportive environment with like-minded women, join our upcoming preconception workshop: http://www.australiacounselling.com.au/trying-to-conceive-workshop

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Trying for a BABY can put a strain on your RELATIONSHIP

Image courtesy of “smarnad″ http://www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of “smarnad″ http://www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Trying for a baby is supposed to be one of the most exciting and fun time in your relationship. However, when it does not happen as quickly as planned it can put an enormous strain on a relationship. It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of couples in Australia will have difficulty conceiving a child.

Conceiving a baby is not as easy as many people think. Even a completely healthy couple under optimal conditions only has a 20-25 percent chance of conceiving each month. Trying for a baby often requires patience and managing disappointment during this emotional roller-coaster ride of anticipation, hope and despair.

When it seems that your entire life revolves around having a healthy baby, an again negative pregnancy test takes its toll on your confidence and your relationship.

Social encounters can become like a mind field when having to navigate questions about having a baby or facing announcements of other pregnancies or births.

Everyone is different, dealing with conception difficulties in their own way. Some people may become distant or depressed, detaching themselves from a relationship that in their eyes has failed them. Either partner may exhibit negative emotions such as anger, hostility, isolation, feeling blamed, unsupported, overwhelmed, misunderstood, and worries about a possible break-up of the relationship.

How can you support yourself and your relationship?

Struggling to have a baby causes distress and brings up intense emotions. It is important to acknowledge these difficult feelings so you can get in touch with your needs.

Where are you at? One way to express yourself is through writing maybe by keeping a journal. Social psychologist Jamie Pennebaker conducted research on the benefits for mental and physical health from writing about negative feelings and experiences. Expressing yourself and your thoughts, worries and emotions, is channelling what you are going through in a constructive way.

You and your partner are in this together – which makes it important for both of you to be supportive of each other. Communicate openly and share your feelings with each other. Discuss your frustrations, emotions, and anything else that the conception process brings up. Talking with and listening to each other can further mutual understanding, help bring you closer and deepen your relationship.

Get information on what you are going through. Knowing what to expect not only helps to validate what you are going through but also eliminate some uncertainty.

Join a support group. It can feel pretty isolating when all your friends and family are either pregnant or already have children. Sharing your experience with other couples and hearing them discuss the same frustrations helps to realize that you are not alone. Here’s a contact in the Melbourne area: http://www.meetup.com/women-trying-to-concieve/

Attend a fertility yoga class to nourish and stimulate the reproductive organs, reduce stress and relax the mind and body: http://www.angeayoga.com.au/

See a psychotherapist or counsellor to resolve emotional blocks around falling pregnant: http://tinyurl.com/MelbournePsychotherapy or http://www.australiacounselling.com.au/

Choose a mind-body approach as your ability to conceive is deeply influenced by the complex interaction between physiological, psychological, and emotional factors. Emotional and psychological issues around conceiving are held on a conscious or unconscious level. Often successful conceptions happens once these underlying causes are explored and life style changes (e.g. environment, food, exercise, stress levels, sleep, satisfaction with life) have been made.

Check out our upcoming preconception workshop: We’ll address anxiety and worries around falling pregnant and you will learn simple but effective techniques to support reproductive health and aid in conception: http://www.australiacounselling.com.au/trying-to-conceive-workshop

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Stress around trying to fall PREGNANT

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Image courtesy of “dream designs″ http://www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Flyer-Preconception_Bloch-Atefi_ShawTrying to conceive?

The journey to conception can be stressful. There is so much waiting, hoping and disappointment when things do not go according to plan. What adds to the problem is that we cannot get pregnant when we are really stressed, but not getting pregnant is the reason we are really stressed!

Your mind can affect your ability to get pregnant on multiple levels. Intense or repeated emotional responses to personal, social, and work-related stressors can cause a physical reaction in the body, throwing it into a state of emergency. The hypothalamus activates the so called fight-or-flight response to protect us from harm.

As you might know, reproduction is one of the most delicate systems in our body. Over time, the prolonged cumulative effect of this stress can affect your reproductive system in a negative way. Since the reproductive system is not vital for immediate survival, its function is suppressed and the body’s energy is directed elsewhere in preparation to fight or flee.

The hypothalamus gland is not only responsible for providing balance in our bodies but also helps control the levels of key fertility hormones LH and FSH through the pituitary gland. If the hypothalamus senses stress, the messages sent to the ovary to release eggs may be interrupted and cause stress-induced infertility.

To break this pattern the underlying emotional tension must be addressed. You might carry negative beliefs such as: “My whole happiness depends on having a baby,” or “It’s my fault that I can’t get pregnant.” A recent study on mind body interventions and pregnancy rates in IVF patients (Domar et al., 2011) found that women who completed a mind body stress reduction program had higher pregnancy rates (cklick here for more info).

Similarly, Victoria Shaw, an expert on conception says “Having counselled hundreds of women through fertility struggles, and so many report levels of stress and anxiety that reduce them to tears of hopelessness and frustration. The stress this puts on their bodies, and the cocktail of hormones that stress and anxiety are creating in their systems, is further reducing their chances of conceiving. Even though they know they need to relax, that is no easy thing to do, no matter how hard it is wished for. However, there are tools they can learn that teach the mindbody system to progressively relax, and many women then find the journey to conception shorter and more fulfilling.

How can you tell you are STRESSED?
If you have a busy schedule chances are you might not be able to tell that you are stressed. Do you feel tense? Have difficulty falling asleep? Unable to make decisions? Find yourself procrastinating? Do you hold your breath? Rushing to meet deadlines? Getting really upset when things didn’t go to plan? You might find yourself feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, having thoughts like “I can’t do this”, “I can’t cope”, feeling irritable and overwhelmed. These can all be signs of stress.

How can you reduce the effect of Stress on your Fertility
Just telling yourself to relax or worse being told to “just relax” will in most cases not only NOT work but might put even more pressure on yourself. Learning to relax is a skill and like any other skill it takes time to learn it.
As everyone reacts to stress differently, there is not one technique that fits all. There are many different stress reduction tools and there is no right or wrong way of doing this. Some people need to be physically active to quieten their mind. The point is, everyone is different and you might have to do a bit of experimenting before you know what’s most beneficial to you:

You might want to try:
– Breathing techniques
– Mindfulness practices
– Moderate exercise
– Yoga
– Progressive muscle relaxation
– Visualisation
– Biofeedback
– Aromatherapy
– Relaxing music
– Massage therapy
– Keeping a journal

How can you tell you are RELAXED?
– There’s quietness in the mindfulness
– You experience feelings of contentment
– There’s no tightness or holding in your body
– The muscles in your face are relaxed and softened
– Your breathing is deep and even
– There’s a sense of opening and letting go
– Slower heart rate

Other options (which are by no means exhaustive) worth exploring when it comes to aid conceiving are:
– Chinese medicine to enhance fertility http://www.sattvanaturaltherapies.com.au/articles/fertility-and-preconception/
– Chiropractic treatment, as spinal health contributes to fertility http://www.wellnesschiropractic.com.au/
– Fertility Yoga (specific postures to nourish and stimulate the reproductive organs) http://www.angeayoga.com.au/
– Acupuncture to support your IVF treatments http://melbourneivfacupuncture.com.au/
– Psychotherapy or counselling to identify negative beliefs and other underlying emotional or psychological issues http://tinyurl.com/MelbournePsychotherapy

Check out our upcoming Preconception Workshop: We’ll address anxiety and worries around falling pregnant and you will learn simple but effective techniques to support reproductive health and aid in conception: http://www.australiacounselling.com.au/trying-to-conceive-workshop

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Reference:

Alice D. Domar, Kristin L. Rooney, Benjamin Wiegand, E. John Orav, Michael M. Alper, Brian M. Berger, Janeta Nikolovski. Impact of a group mind/body intervention on pregnancy rates in IVF patients. Fertility and Sterility, 2011; DOI:

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Stress and Perfectionism

Not only being inspired by the quote but also by the author Alfred Adler (1870 – 1937) himself, a fellow Austrian (yes paying tribute to my country of birth), who was a psychotherapist and pioneer in the field of Humanist Psychology.

Adler (1951) suggested that perfectionism is a defense mechanism to compensate for inferiority feelings stemming from childhood.

Many of us do battle with varying degrees of perfectionism. If as children we were unfavourably compared to others, criticised and or emotionally abandoned we are likely to compensate with perfectionism as a coping mechanism. Perfectionism offers a sense of control for the powerless child, who believes that “If I am perfect or being perceived as perfect, I can avoid or minimise the painful feelings of shame, judgement, and abandonment.”

Of course there is no such thing as being perfect. Basco (1999) has defined perfectionism as “an endless striving in which each task is seen as a challenge and no effort is ever good enough, yet the person continues in desperation to avoid mistakes, achieve perfection, and gain approval” (p. 5). Hence a viscous cycle is set in place. Because when we do experience shame, judgement, and abandonment we often believe it is because we did not perform perfectly and just have to try harder. The problem is it will never be good or perfect enough and therefore everything ultimately leads to disappointment. Perfectionists are likely to become chronically irritated, frustrated, discontent and angry as things are never as they should be.

When we persist with perfectionist behaviour despite these negative consequences (e.g. sacrificing relationships and opportunities) it can take on the form of an addiction. As there is a biochemical response (e.g. happy, sad) every time the thought or impulse resurfaces, the body becomes habituated to the behaviour, contributing to the addictive quality of perfectionism.

Perfectionism goes hand in hand with a harsh inner critic that finds fault with everything and fuels negative beliefs such as ”I must never make mistakes, and if I do I am a failure”. This is accompanied by worrying about failure and what others think. Because of the distress caused by perceived failure perfectionism can have a pretty stifling effect on our lives. Not only has it been linked to obsessive compulsive behaviour, anxiety, depression (Nadich et al., 1975), and eating disorders (Bardone-Cone et al., 2007) its also leads to procrastination. When we are too occupied with avoiding mistakes and fending off failure we often won’t even risk trying.

Seeking perfection also stands in the way of our authentic self: We try to adhere to impossible standards, striving for a version of who we think we should be, instead of exploring and accepting who we are as well as listening to our needs and dreams.

What are symptoms of perfectionism?
-All-or-Nothing/Black and white thinking
-Obsessive worrying
-Devaluing Comparisons To others
-Over-productivity/Workaholism
-Harsh Judgements of Self & Others
-When things are not perfect, you feel tense, anxious
-Feelings of worthlessness when you don’t perform perfectly
-Lack of flexibility in the standards imposed upon oneself and others

So how can we disarm the inner critic and let go of perfectionism?

According to Greenspan (2000) “the healing of perfectionism involves not only the discovery and counteracting of perfectionistic internal messages, but also the development of feelings of unconditional acceptability as a person” (p. 209).

Awareness is always the first step. Noticing thought and behaviour patterns in a kind, compassionate way without being judgemental about it, as that would just feed our inner critic.

Another important step is to get to know the negative inner voice:
-What does it say, when does it show up?
-Does it remind us of someone familiar?
-Is there any bodily sensation that goes with it?
-Start Dialogues with the Inner critic – Thank it for its protective function in childhood but stand up to it by saying that you have better ways of coping now.
-Focus on something you like within yourself.

Having the courage of being open to who we are and what we’re feeling, be it good or bad. To overcome perfectionism we need to be able to acknowledge our vulnerabilities (see Brene Brown’s talk on vulnerability) to the universal experiences of shame, disappointment and failure.

So in a nutshell “the courage to be imperfect”, gives us the opportunity to get in touch with our authentic, core SELF.

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References

Adler, A. (1951), The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology, trans. P. Radin. New York: Humanities Press.

Bardone-Cone AM, Wonderlich SA, Frost RO, Bulik CM, Mitchell JE, Uppala S, Simonich H: Perfectionism and eating disorders: current status and future directions. Clin Psychology Rev 2007, 27:384–405

Basco, M. R. (1999). Never good enough: Freeing yourself from the chains of perfectionism.New York,NY: Free Press.

Greenspan, T. (2000). ’Healthy Perfectionism’ is an Oxymoron! Journal of Secondary Gifted Education 11, 197-209.

Nadich, M., Gargan, M. and Michael, L. (1975). Denial, anxiety, locus of control and the discrepancy between aspiration and achievement as components of depression. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 84, 1-9.

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STRESS & physical exercise

Image courtesy of "foto76" http://www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of “foto76” http://www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Different forms of stress (sudden losses or everyday stressors) can have a detrimental effect on your health especially if they are not processed but stay in your system. Meaning your body is on an alert position causing adrenaline and cortisol to be released into your blood stream. Overtime this causes your sympathetic nervous system to be in a perpetual state of “fight or flight” which can result in a adrenal burnout. Consequently your immune system becomes impaired, you might have trouble sleeping, experience weight gain, mood swings and hormonal imbalances.

The most basic building blocks of effective stress management are addressing your body’s basic needs for sleep, exercise and nutrition (e.g. balanced diet, no processed foods, staying hydrated, Magnesium, Fish Oil, Vitamin C, Vitamin B).

Almost any form of exercise, from aerobics to yoga, can act as a stress reliever. Physical exercise helps to release built up tension, increases production of endorphins as well as reduces hormones that serve as messengers of stress. It also induces a “meditative state”, leaving the day’s stresses behind by solely focussing on the movement you are engaged in. Exercise can also improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress. Additionally, movement increases breathing and heart rate so that more blood flows to the brain, enhancing energy production and detoxification.

A particular good exercise for stress relief is walking. Anyone can do it and its easy to adapt it to your schedule. Apart from the obvious (oxygenation, strengthening your immune system, increasing core strength, improving back pain etc) it also helps to reduce emotional built up through engaging left and and right brain processing.

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Tolkien’s Hobbit – A hero’s journey

Why would I as a Counsellor and Psychotherapist be inclined to write about Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 novel “The Hobbit”?

For once it is attracting millions of viewers of all ages to cinemas around the world and secondly “The Hobbit” appeals for its association with the process of maturation.

In a nutshell Bilbo’s (the hobbit’s) story is the tale about an everyday guy who embarks on an adventure. Together with Gandalf the Wizard and 13 dwarves he sets out to reclaim their homeland and the treasure that was long ago taken from them by the dragon Smaug.

Bilbo’s adventure is a Hero’s journey (Campbell, 1971), a rite of passage in which the individual ventures forth from the familiar and returns older and wiser, with a sense of personal contribution to the world.

Bilbo is not your typical “hero”. Instead, he is a plain, ordinary, and initially timid creature, reluctant to undertake the challenge set out for him. And exactly therein lays his appeal. It feels empowering to relate to Bilbo, who is an everyday hero because it means that you do not have to possess extraordinary talents or be fearless in order to triumph against the odds. Bilbo’s heroism also tells us that succeeding is not about physical daring or aggression but about overcoming fear, self-doubt and temptation.

The hero myth enjoys widespread popularity because it is universal, can be applied to many human problems and helps us navigate through challenging times of crisis. The adventure can be an inward one of the mind, body and psyche or an outward one to an actual place. The journey is a metaphor for a “transformative crisis” that leads to growth and self-discovery. In this process of transformation old ways of thinking are altered or let go off, opening the way to a new level of awareness and a changed view on life.

Understanding life’s pattern as a journey can help us look more optimistically at our lives and accept the ups and downs as natural challenges. What’s more, the challenges reflect our fears and insecurities, and it is only by facing these fears that we can acknowledge and incorporate them. Fears and insecurities mark the threshold between the known and unknown. In the known world, we feel secure because we know the landscape and the rules. Past the threshold, however, we encounter the unknown, a world filled with challenges and dangers. And like Bilbo we have to acquire new skills to survive.

People who never venture forth from the safety and security of their familiar environment and their regular routines may never discover what they can do and accomplish. Often it is by moving out of our “comfort zones” that we experience the most satisfaction.

Bilbo’s hero’s adventure is not only a popular theme in myths across times and cultures but it is also symbolic of the therapeutic process. When embarking on a therapeutic journey, like Bilbo we are leaving the familiar and comfortable behind and are venturing into the unknown to face our fears and defences. Leaving home, means not only leaving comfort, security and order behind but also stagnation, risk-aversion, and constraint.

On our journey we are learning new resources as old coping mechanisms are no longer working. And like the “hero” we grow with every difficulty that we overcome to emerge as wiser, more open-minded beings.

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References:

Campbell, Joseph (1971). The Hero with a Thousand Faces 2nd Edition, New York: Bollingen Series XVii Princeton University Press.

Tolkien, J. R. R. (1996). The Hobbit. 5th Edition. London: Allen & Unwin.

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Stress and the DANCE of LIFE

Do you experience JOY in your life?

CMBB_Counselling_Melbourne_Alexandra_Bloch_Atefi_Dance

In my work as counsellor and psychotherapist I meet clients who have forgotten to dance, play, experience joy. It’s about connecting with what you love, a forgotten part of your authentic self.

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