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Finding Peace When the Pieces Are Falling Apart

Five science-backed paths to regaining control in the face of infertility.

Key points

  • Like building physical resilience, building emotional resilience takes practice, too.
  • Rehearsing and repeating self-blame is the biggest barrier to feeling inner peace.
  • Hope may lead you to take steps that change the direction of your journey for the better.
Source: iStock/AscentXmedia

I could tell you to watch a candle flame, spray your room with lavender, or sip chamomile tea to feel some peace when you feel like the pieces are falling apart. But that is the type of advice your Aunt Fanny could give you, and unless she is an autonomic nervous system researcher, it would not be science-based or likely to work for more than a moment.

Our brain is designed to be on high alert for danger and the unexpected. What does science say about quieting our brain when we don’t know what’s coming next, especially when faced with something like infertility?

Research finds that we can change the neural circuits in our brain by what we choose to say to ourselves and what we choose to do when we are anxious. In many instances, insight is not enough. Like building physical resilience, building emotional resilience takes practice, too.

Here are five paths to regaining peace among life’s chaos and why they work.

1. Stop putting yourself down.

Rehearsing and repeating self-blame is the biggest barrier to feeling inner peace. Besides, if you are already dealing with financial, fertility, or relationship problems, you are only adding insult to injury by blaming yourself.

Try to catch yourself every time you do, and tell yourself to leave “could have,” “should have,” and “would have” behind. Face forward, start rehearsing self-esteem instead, and give yourself encouragement, compliments, and even hugs. Soon the self-esteem response will be strengthened, and the self-blame response will fade.

2. Start rediscovering hope.

We are born with the capacity for hope. An example of using this hope is when we are young: we look forward to our birthday party or our best friend’s visit. But as we become older, practicing hope doesn’t come as easily because life’s journeys become so unpredictable.

But pessimism makes the journey even harder and doesn’t protect us from disappointment! Instead, pessimism alters our brain’s neurochemical activity and makes it more difficult to cope with disappointment or enjoy success. If you feel you have lost your capacity for hope, you can choose to reinforce it again.

Think of hopeful images, talk with hope, focus on the positive, and assess the likelihood that your hope will become real rather than fail. The outcome of your journey may not be changed, but the quality of your journey will be. Hope may lead you to take steps that change the direction of your journey for the better.

3. Create a daily ‘giving’ experience.

Why should we give away time, effort, encouragement, compassion, or forgiveness just when we feel drained and overwhelmed by our problems? First, altruism activates the reward centers of the brain and stimulates the release of dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin. All brain neurotransmitters create a sense of emotional warmth and peace.

Second, neurobiologists find that the brain's pleasure centers also become activated and counteract anxiety and depression.

Next, studies find that we automatically imagine what the recipient will feel like after receiving our help, which gives us an emotional lift.

Finally, such acts can distract us from our problems and remind us that we are not alone – others have difficult journeys also. The bottom line, when we’re in the throes of something tumultuous like a fertility journey, practicing giving can help us to feel more peace.

4. Take timeouts. Even if it’s for a few minutes, find a quiet spot and only focus on the moment that you’re in. No worrying, watching, waiting, or ruminating. Just picture the sky above you and the ground below.

Then scan your body for tension spots and relax each spot. Let your eyes close and breathe slowly and gently, counting each breath. Keep counting until you feel physically at peace and float until your eyes open by themselves. You may have already practiced a version of this and know it as mindfulness, progressive relaxation, yoga rhythm, or guided meditation. Here is how it helps you find some peace:

  • It brings you into the present, where you have control.
  • It restores your perspective as part of nature.
  • It lets you relax physical tension, which signals your brain that there is no danger or emergency.
  • It slows your breathing which stops adrenaline rushes.
  • It stimulates the brain circuits, which sense tension and initiates relaxation.
  • It increases your capacity for creating peacefulness. Neurons can send a signal about 270 to 300 miles per hour and fire up to 45 times a second, so every timeout, even if it’s brief, retrains your brain to find peace.

5. Practice gratitude.

If Aunt Fanny’s advice is “Remember, it could be worse,” this time, a researcher would agree. Receiving and practicing gratitude during times of great difficulty is another path to stimulating the release of dopamine and serotonin, our inborn antidepressant and anti-anxiety neurotransmitters.

This makes lasting changes to the rational-thinking part of the cortex. Many of the first responders I spoke with during the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak said they practiced gratitude to keep going. They reminded themselves every day to appreciate their support group, to feel good about being able to help many, and to feel thankful if they were still healthy. They said when they received gratitude from patients and the community. This gave them the courage and motivation they needed when all seemed bleak.

Trying to walk these paths doesn’t usually come easily or naturally when we feel like our life is in pieces. Many have learned these paths from family, spiritual or religious teachings, or experience.

But if they are new to you, they will take practice. Hopefully, they will help bring you some peace during your fertility journey or any other difficult moment in your life. As always, walking these paths with someone who understands and cares makes the journey easier.


HANSON RICK. NEURODHARMA: New Science, Ancient Wisdom, and Seven Practices of the Highest Happiness. S.l.: HARMONY CROWN; 2021.

Hanson R, Hanson F. Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness. New York: Harmony Books; 2020.

Filkowski MM, Cochran RN, Haas BW. Altruistic behavior: mapping responses in the brain. Neurosci Neuroecon. 2016;5:65-75. doi: 10.2147/NAN.S87718. Epub 2016 Nov 4. PMID: 28580317; PMCID: PMC5456281.

Boston College 2019. The brain's pathways to imagination may hold the key to altruistic behavior. The brain’s pathways to imagination may hold the key to altruistic behavior. Published July 12, 2019. Accessed April 7, 2022.

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