Charting your menstrual cycle with a fertility awareness method (FAM) is a life-changing practice that can open your eyes to a greater understanding of your health. But at first, it can also come with some hurdles to nail down the practice. Perhaps if you’re using the Sympto-Thermal method, you struggle to remember to take your temperature every morning; or if you’re charting with the fertility awareness method Creighton, perhaps you struggle to put down your day’s most fertile observation.
Perhaps when the moment comes to record your biomarker on your FAM chart, you feel annoyed and come up with excuses so that you can postpone entering your observations. It may feel like too much effort now, causing you to forget to ever enter your observations. or wait so long to enter them that you can’t remember what they actually were. Perhaps you dread charting because you don’t feel confident in your ability to identify the data you need to enter, or you don’t like the implications that particular observation may have for your health or your relationship. Maybe you are resentful that the weight of these observations falls on your shoulders. Whatever the reason might be, charting can spark a host of emotions and thoughts that are sometimes negative. And if you’ve ever felt these ways, you are not alone.
Luckily, a strategy often used in psychotherapy can be very beneficial when it comes to establishing a consistent charting habit and addressing any stress or anxiety surrounding charting. That strategy is called mindfulness.
How mindfulness can help with fertility charting
Mindfulness is a term used to describe the practice of focusing on what is happening in the present moment in a non-judgmental way in order to increase focus, reduce stress, and increase your ability to recognize thoughts, emotions, sensations, or things happening in your environment. The benefits of mindfulness are well-supported by research and include reducing stress and negative emotions while increasing positive emotions. Other benefits include improved focus, decision-making abilities, empathy, and relationship quality.
Practicing mindfulness can also help you address fertility awareness charting-specific challenges including any negative associations you have with it, your reactions to the process of charting, or the implications of the data you are observing. For example, if you find yourself feeling like you are always in a hurry and so you tend to skip making or entering your observations, taking a moment to practice mindfulness may help you feel more present and less stressed when it’s time to make or enter your observations.
Practicing mindfulness can also improve your ability to address any stress in your life that could be impacting both your ability to establish a successful charting habit or that could be negatively impacting your cycle. Mindfulness exercises such as deep breathing and other forms of relaxation have been shown to help reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and pain, and reduce symptoms of stress including high blood pressure and increased heart rate. It has also been shown to improve focus, and sense of well being.
How to practice mindfulness
A simple way to practice mindfulness is through deep breathing. =By using a simple deep breathing exercise like this one, you can activate your body’s parasympathetic nervous system (similar to using the brake on your car), which counteracts your body’s response to stress (which is more like flooring the gas pedal while driving). It is also a great way to start any other mindfulness exercises because focusing on your breathing patterns immediately grounds you in the present moment. Try it!
Another simple-to-use mindfulness exercise is engaging all five of your senses. You can do this simply by observing your environment and yourself while asking, “What do I see/hear/smell/taste/feel?” You can also do this exercise by chewing gum, eating a raisin, or a piece of chocolate and asking yourself these same questions. Sometimes, having something specific to focus on makes this exercise easier, especially when you’re getting started.
A variation on this exercise is to sit quietly and, after taking a few deep, focused breaths, simply sit and observe your thoughts in a non-judgmental way. Your goal is to identify and acknowledge your thoughts, both positive and negative, without labeling them as “good” or “bad.” This is particularly beneficial because we tend to label negative thoughts or emotions as “bad” and then try to suppress them or blame ourselves for experiencing them. This exercise can help you learn to recognize negative thoughts or emotions so that you can choose how you’d like to respond to them.
Connecting mindfulness to fertility awareness
By practicing mindfulness exercises, you can grant yourself the time and space to recognize any signs of stress or negative emotions that are affecting your ability to chart well, as well as any effects they may be having on your cycle. Once you notice the presence of stress or any other factors affecting charting or your cycle, you have the opportunity to choose how you want to address them instead of feeling like everything is “just happening” to you. In this way, mindfulness—like fertility awareness—gives you more agency over your health and well-being, which is incredibly empowering.
When this article refers to fertility awareness methods (FAM), or natural family planning (NFP), we are referring to Fertility Awareness-Based Methods, evidence-based methods of cycle charting which can be used as effective forms of natural birth control when learned by a certified instructor.
Last updated December 30, 2020.