Waiting lists to see doctors / specialists, feeling a loss of control, financial costs of treatment, failed treatments - these are all potentially unavoidable factors that build a level of stress and anxiety into what should be a happy and joyful experience.
Add to that the pregnancy announcements and daily stressors that you face, and it can become so very overwhelming. This has been represented in a study that reported levels of anxiety and depression were comparable between women with a new cancer diagnosis and female infertility patients.
The question therefore lies in, how is it best to manage this unavoidable situation?
Read on to discover some evidence based strategies that you can employ to support yourself during your TTC journey, and try to mitigate some of the stress you may encounter along the way.
1. Finding ways to increase those moments of relaxation
Activation of the stress system (sympathetic nervous system) within the body, whether originating from physical, emotional, or psychological means, affects many other areas, including the reproductive systems. This is not to say that stress causes infertility. That topic has been hotly debated, remaining a controversial point. However, what is does mean is that being under stress may negatively impact fertility.
So what can we do??
By increasing the frequency of moments of relaxation, it places the body into the opposite of the activated stress system; the rest and relax phase (parasympathetic system). This allows our body to carry on with the 'normal' processes of digestion, reproduction etc. These moments of relaxation can come in many forms. For some, it may be meditation, for others it may be taking a bath in the evening where you're undisturbed.
The important thing to grasp here is that it doesn't matter HOW you find your relaxation moments. It's just important that you find SOMETHING that you enjoy doing to calm the mind.
Other suggestions may be:
taking a walk
being mindful - this is different to meditation. Meditation focuses on calming the mind in an intentional and structured way, mindfulness is just paying attention to your surroundings and being present - this may be during an activity such as walking / eating.
....increasing the frequency of moments of relaxation.
2. Using journaling to increase self compassion
Self compassion can be explained by having a kind, non-judgmental approach to oneself, especially when thinking about areas that we deem to be weak in ourselves. Something that we're not always good at. It's like thinking about how you would talk to your best friend about their problems, and then speaking to yourself in the same compassionate way.
Journaling provides a means to express self compassion and has become commonplace as a method to self reflect. Writing down how your day has gone, what you are feeling, what you are worried about may not sound like it can do much good, but the evidence shows otherwise. A study carried out during lockdown showed that regular practicing of self compassion through journaling, over a period of just 2 weeks, was able to reduce feelings of isolation and stress, factors that are frequently experienced in infertility.
Using gratitude as part of a journaling practice has also been shown to positively affect mental health, reducing negative thinking, and improving mood. When assessed in a group of women about to embark on assisted conception treatment, a higher level of gratitude disposition was associated with a lower level of infertility-related stress.
So maybe it's time to go out and buy yourself a lovely new notebook, grab a cuppa, and sit down to pen some thoughts?
3. Movement / exercise
Carrying out regular vigorous physical exercise has been shown to improve perceived levels of stress, anxiety and depression. However, exercise does not have to be vigorous to achieve these beneficial effects.
Hatha yoga has been utilised as a gentle practice to support a reduction in infertility-related stress in those awaiting treatment. Perceived levels of anxiety and depression were shown to reduce following a 6-week programme in women awaiting treatment, coupled with a reduction in negative feelings and thoughts associated with infertility. A further 2020 review showed a reduction in anxiety levels following a regular yoga practice in women undergoing, or awaiting, infertility treatment.
These benefits are separate from the multitude of positive effects yoga can have on the physiological factors associated with infertility.
4. Working with a fertility coach
If you feel that you need extra support to help you manage expectations, improve acceptance of your situation, and manage general day to day life, working with a qualified Fertility Coach may be an avenue for you to investigate.
They can support you to understand, manage, and control your emotions, encouraging acceptance of what may be out of your control. They work in stages, taking small steps so as not to add any more overwhelm to your situation. Fertility coaches are often women who have walked the same path as you and come out the other end, wanting to provide support to others currently going through it. Using the power of the mind / body connection can be truly transformational from a stress related point of view, along with potentially enhancing treatment outcomes.
There is no overall accrediting body for fertility coaches, hence no general search directory to find one. It is best to therefore do your research, or go on a recommendation in order to find a reputable coach. If you are under a fertility clinic, they may have links with a fertility coach already and be able to direct you.
I hope you have read some new things, picked up some stress management tips that you maybe hadn't thought of, and feel that you now have some direction to go in, to further support yourself.
As part of the nutritional therapy programme that I offer, stress management is key. It's not all about nutrition!
I listen to where you're at, what works for you (and what doesn't - personally I find meditation stress-inducing!), and we collaborate on a plan that aims to help you manage your situation whilst enhancing your health.
If you'd like to have a chat to discuss further, please book in for a free 30 minute call with me. I'd love to speak with you.