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A Fertility Therapist's Guide to Coping During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global threat that is touching almost every person on the planet in some way.

Fear of the virus itself and the challenges of social isolation, economic turmoil, and specific set-backs, such as the pause in fertility treatments like egg freezing and IVF, can lead to anxiety, depression and a sense of hopelessness.

Despite this, as Dr. Anne Malavé, Chair of the Mental Health Professional Group of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine puts it:

"There are opportunities for the development of resilience and post traumatic growth."

Below we detail Dr. Malavé's series of practical recommendations - published to ASRM members - of how to cope during the Coronavirus epidemic. But, first, she begins by saying:

  • 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.

She also cites some key phrases to bear in mind as the challenges unfold:

"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.

"We are not alone"

We are social distancing, but we must remain social. We may work remotely, but we must not be remote.

"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 Anne Malavé's Recommendations for Coping

  • Understand that 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. (See the ELANZA Wellness Fertility Fit app for a community of likeminded people.)

  • 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).

  • Maintain healthy habits of eating, sleeping, and exercise.

  • Learn more about the importance of healthy nutrition.

"Exercise (Mental and Physical) is Important"
  • Jigsaw puzzles, sudoku, and crossword puzzles can be calming

  • Add yoga and meditation - -utilize apps on your mobile devices for these. (The Fertility Fit app contains free meditations)

"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.

  • Donate money or donate supplies. Help a neighbor.

  • Reach out for professional help and utilize hotlines.

  • Volunteer. Altruism and giving to others is healing.

  • Affiliate with a group. It is protective and promotes mental health.

  • Laugh. Humor helps.

  • Lower your expectations of self and others.

  • Avoid unhealthy habits (smoking, alcohol, using substances), etc.

  • 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.

Dr Malavé suggests some mantras that might prove useful to you:

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
"If you're going through hell, keep going."
"This too shall pass."

Suggestions by Anne Malavé, Ph.D., Chair of the MHPG, 2019-2020, as published by ASRM COVID-19 communications.

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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