Ivy Margulies, PsyD is our guest blogger this week and shares some fascinating info on the benefits of support groups and what you can do if one if not available to you. Thanks so much for sharing with us, Ivy!
The Psychological Benefits of Support Groups and Mindfulness for Women Choosing ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology)
In reviewing existing research on the psychosocial factors associated with the use of in vitro fertilization (IVF), it is patently clear that strong social support is helpful in reducing the anxiety, stress and fear in women deciding to pursue this path. To illustrate further, a recent study by the Mayo Clinic (2002) found women who attended group sessions prior to a cycle of IVF were significantly less anxious during the IVF treatment when compared to women who did not participate in a support group.
As a clinical psychologist and facilitator of infertility support groups, I have witnessed first-hand the psychological benefits associated with the reduction in stress and anxiety that takes place when women come together and share their intimate journey of infertility. Moreover, when women allow themselves to feel emotionally vulnerable in a group they immediately feel heard and seen by others traveling the same uncertain journey. They are no longer invisible as they pursue having a much wanted baby.
In general however, most women going through infertility treatments keep it to themselves and are less likely to share or seek social support during this time in their lives. Many couples don’t particularly want to tell people about it which compounds the embarrassment, shame and stigma they may be feeling. Many women report feeling defective; not “normal” when compared to their peers who are able to conceive easily. This compounds the common feeling of being socially isolated, particularly when research tells us social support is critical for women and their partners who are going through infertility.
Scientific evidence strongly confirms that emotional well being along with various forms of health benefits are in direct correlation to social support. Women experience positive emotions when they have supportive interactions with other women who are going through the same experience.
However, positive results can also be achieved when women (and their partners) use mindfulness techniques. Defined by Merriam-Webster as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, mindfulness allows for calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Further more, it can be used as a therapeutic technique to help people with any number of distressing feelings and situations as well as beneficial in the practice of meditation.
Mindfulness has myriad applications. An interesting finding on the benefit of using mindfulness is that it can be used in place of a support group (or in conjunction with a support group) when there either is no support group in your area or if you personally prefer not to partake in a support group experience and can be implemented this way: If you take the time to close your eyes for ten to twenty minutes, minimum per day, and imagine that you are receiving unconditional, loving support from your family and friends as it relates to your infertility, you can elicit a similar benefit of reducing symptoms of stress and anxiety as if you were participating in a group therapy process. In addition, there is a reduction in feelings of distress and self-criticism, just as there is when you participate in a support group.
I am encouraged by this finding which confirms that continued practice in mindfulness based techniques can be used as a tool that you can implement simply by exercising the power of your mind which once trained, can be used in any number of other anxiety provoking situations in your life, not only those associated with IVF.
Ivy Margulies, PsyD of Angels Born Still is a clinical psychologist in Santa Monica, California specializing in maternal mental health, including stillbirth, miscarriage, infertility, postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, and infant loss. Dr. Margulies brings mindfulness and awareness to the mind-body-spirit connection through meditation, visualization, and breath work.
In addition to Dr. Margulies’ clinical practice, she is a death midwife, assisting and helping educate the family on processes associated with the transition of life into death, at any age. The work Dr. Margulies does is designed to create a sacred space for parents who have experienced perinatal death for reasons that are unknown and make no sense. She is dedicated to improving the care and information families need in the hospital.
Dr. Margulies is a member of the Los Angeles County Perinatal Mental Health Task Force, working to reduce the stigma and shame around maternal mental health issues while raising awareness of the #1 complication of pregnancy and childbirth.