Managing Stress During Infertility Treatment
For most patients, fertility treatment is accompanied by financial concerns, family or societal pressure, fear of failure and long periods of waiting for results. These are all factors inherent to infertility that may contribute to stress.
For patients’ health and wellbeing, it is important to find ways to reduce unhealthy levels of stress. Managing stress can be different for each person or couple. Anything that helps a person unwind and relax is a step in the right direction.
Individuals and couples can take several actions to manage their stress during this difficult time. People can address stress with the help of others or act on it by themselves. Below are some of our stress reduction recommendations.
Counseling & support groups for stress reduction
Perhaps the most effective means for infertile couples to combat stress is through knowledgeable counseling. Frisco Institute for Reproductive Medicine (FIRM) has one of the only in-house counselors in the Dallas area who provides counseling specific to stress and infertility.
In addition, infertile individuals or couples have complimentary access to our infertility support group, where group members share and help each other through their experiences and struggles to achieve their dream of their own family. Being a patient at FIRM is not a prerequisite for participation in the support group.
Support groups and counseling sessions teach patients new coping skills, relaxation techniques and explore emotions such as sadness, anger, fear of failure, grieving or feelings of isolation. Our counselor, Reen Myburgh, LPC, has in-depth counseling experience dealing with infertility and related stresses.
Ways to help with managing stress yourself
It is important to find what works to reduce stress and stick to it. Every person does not have the same stress points, and likewise, different relaxation techniques work for different people.
Individuals and couples should apply the techniques that work for them in their daily routine. Couples can play a crucial role in helping each other deal with stress and should always support one another in such efforts. For example, blaming each other does not reduce stress. Trusted friends or family can often provide invaluable support and encouragement throughout the infertility journey.
Meditation and relaxation
Meditation induces relaxation and by default, reduces stress. Meditation can be included in a workout such as group yoga or can be done in the comfort of home. Certain actions or habits specific to each person can enhance relaxation which will lead to reduced stress. It can be as simple as taking a bath or watching a favorite TV show. Everyone needs to find what relaxes them and frequently apply that to their lives.
It is also important to get adequate sleep, especially when trying to become pregnant. Scientists concur that sleep deprivation ranks among the top physical stressors.
Sleep patterns, among other factors, set our daily, or circadian, body rhythms. Our body functions are dependent on daily patterns of metabolic and other growth hormones such as thyroid hormone, melatonin and corticosteroids – from the warm rush when one wakes up in the morning to the difficulty with sleep after a transatlantic flight.
In some animals, reproduction is driven by circadian and seasonal patterns of reproductive hormones. That’s why most sheep are only fertile in the fall and horses in the spring. Poor sleep patterns will lead to disturbed circadian rhythms which, in turn, will impact metabolic hormones, reproductive hormones and body functions.
In summary, good sleep results in stable circadian rhythms and an improved chance for balanced reproductive hormones, a prerequisite for fertility.
Walking, yoga, swimming and other moderate exercises are a great way to reduce stress. As a general rule, one should not engage in exercise that your body is not used to when trying to get pregnant. This is not the time to run your first marathon.
Extreme or endurance training may inhibit reproductive hormones. Extreme or endurance training is commonly associated with low body fat, high levels of exercise hormones (same as stress hormones) and exhaustion. None of these are conducive to fertility.
On the other hand, yoga or taking a relaxing walk are alternatives to more strenuous exercise. These will gradually raise one’s heart rate, improve blood flow to organs such as ovaries and uterus, and improve tissue oxygenation. These lower intensity workouts will also allow moments for relaxed thought.
Acupuncture, herbal supplements and massage
Acupuncture or massage provide another avenue to combat infertility stress. Acupuncture may be more than a reducer of stress. Some studies suggest that targeted infertility acupuncture may increase blood flow to the uterus and ovaries. For obvious reasons, this may improve healthy follicle development and promote embryo implantation.
A study in Germany published in Fertility and Sterility, tested the effect of acupuncture on patients who underwent in vitro fertilization (IVF). The women who received acupuncture just before and after embryo transfer had a higher (42.5%) pregnancy rate than women who did not receive acupuncture (26.3%). While this study and others are promising, more research is needed before a definitive link can be drawn between acupuncture and pregnancy.
Herbal supplements are often used with acupuncture. If trying to become pregnant it is best and safest to refrain from taking these supplements. Many herbal supplements are undefined and have varying concentrations of a myriad of possible active substances, some which may prove to be detrimental to conception.
Massages can be helpful to reduce stress. The right massages have been found to decrease the body’s physical signs of stress with an increase in relaxing brain waves, a healthier heart rate and consistently lower blood pressure. You may want to try one of these at home with the help of your partner.