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Training Our Mind for Endurance

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Mental training can help us get through horrible physical experiences—even childbirth!

This is how my first childbirth experience went. I had chosen to go all natural and without medications. I felt intense pain during all of the contractions. Between contractions, during those breaks with no pain that can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, I was anxious and freaking out about the next contraction. I was experiencing what psychologists call “anticipatory anxiety”—I was wary of the next contraction (it doesn’t help that each one gets progressively more painful), anticipating the worst, and, in my particular case, feeling incredibly sorry for myself and completely alone, cursing like a sailor, calling for my mom, crying, and praying to all the Gods. I was a hot delirious mess. For 17 hours.  Before my second child was born, I learned self-hypnosis for natural childbirth. I still felt pain during the contractions—in fact I felt it intensely. But between contractions I wasn’t cursing or crying. I was in a deep restful state. My husband said it looked like I went into a comatose sleep. Now, these in-between-contraction moments are not long, certainly not long …

Emma Seppälä, PhD, is author of The Happiness Track, founder of FulfillmentDaily.com, and Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.

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