8 Ways to Manage Stress During Fertility Treatment
We all experience stress. Even as we begin to see the light at the end of this pandemic tunnel, anxiety and stress still seem to be at an all-time high. If you're dealing with the emotional roller coaster of infertility on top of all of that...well, it can sometimes feel downright overwhelming.When you feel stressed, it causes a physical reaction in your body. Your body responds to stress physically, mentally, or emotionally. This is a perfectly normal part of life.
Even positive events in your life can cause stress. For example, buying a new home or getting your dream job. Fortunately, regardless of whether your stress stemmed from a positive or negative circumstance, the human body is built to respond to it. This is exactly why we have a “Fight or Flight” response.
What is Stress and How Does It Affect the Body?
"Stress" refers to the response of the sympathetic nervous system to a triggering event. The body releases hormones, such as adrenaline, into the bloodstream, resulting in the "fight or flight" reaction. This physiological response helps us become more alert, motivated, and ready to respond to real or perceived danger.
Have you ever felt your heart race or your breath quicken? How about when your face gets flushed or your hands get sweaty? This is your body’s normal and healthy response to stress.
However, stress can have a negative effect on your body if it becomes continuous or chronic. In the short term, chronic stress can lead you to have difficulties falling asleep, causing you to toss and turn all night. (We've all been there, right?) It can cause you to eat poorly, increase substance use, and/or become irritable.
Long-term stress can lead to increased blood pressure, upset stomach, headaches, and can also lower immune system functioning. From a psychological standpoint, chronic stress can eventually result in depression, panic attacks, and anxiety.
Like many things in life, stress is a part of most fertility journeys, but thankfully, there are things you can do to combat some of this natural response in a healthy way.
Does Stress Impact My Fertility?
At some point in your quest to build a family, I’m guessing that you have felt stressed - probably a major understatement. It’s only natural to be sad or upset that you aren’t pregnant yet, especially when you'd hoped (or expected) that it would be easy. It's also normal to feel frustrated that you even had to seek out fertility treatment.
A fertility journey has so many ups and downs. That’s why it’s often described as a roller coaster ride of emotions! Again, it’s not that stress is bad, it’s a normal part of life. But chronic stress can be an issue.
That being said, does stress decrease your chances of getting pregnant? The quick answer is maybe...but not in the way you may think. Studies have shown that patients suffering from infertility have similar rates of depression and anxiety as patients who suffer from other serious medical conditions such as heart disease or cancer.
The key connection here is this: Chronic stress can lead to depression and anxiety, and the more depressed and anxious you are in treatment, the more likely you are to discontinue treatment.
So it's less about stress directly correlating with your success and more about it affecting your levels of depression and anxiety, which can ultimately impact your willingness to continue riding the fertility roller coaster.
Check out our Mental Health Minute video series for some helpful tools and ideas that can help with managing stress during fertility treatment.
Get more tips for coping with stress as a fertility patient:
What Can I Do to Help My Depression or Anxiety?
I like to think about it in terms of figuring out what you can control and letting go of what you can’t.
You can’t control having to experience fertility treatment, but you can control how you react to it emotionally. The goal of managing stress is to try and elicit the relaxation response to counteract Fight or Flight. It’s not a specific technique, but it describes the internal changes that occur when the mind becomes calm.
Several scientific studies by Herbert Benson and colleagues at Harvard Medical School’s Division of Behavioral Health have shown the benefits on your body when eliciting the relaxation response.
The response is a decrease in heart rate, breathing rate, and muscle tension, and oxygen rates fall below resting levels. This in turn will decrease the adverse physical and psychological effects of chronic stress.
What Are Some Ways to Manage and Reduce Stress?
Fortunately, there are many ways to manage stress, it’s just a matter of finding a few tools that work best for you. Sometimes, it’s as simple as reconnecting to something that worked for you in the past, like going for long walks or journaling.
Other times, it’s being open to trying something new like tending a garden or joining a support group. It can also be a combination of both! Equipping yourself with multiple tools can only help.
Here at RMA of Connecticut, we even offer free weekly Fertile Yoga classes which have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety in fertility patients! If movement is something that helps you de-stress, I recommend checking out a class.
Here are eight ways to manage and reduce stress, specifically tailored to patients going through fertility treatment:
- Start by making a list of priorities. Before taking on new commitments, evaluate whether now is the right time to add something else to your plate.
- Find a fertility friend or support group - RMA of CT support groups and Resolve are two great resources. Feel free to vent, confide and hear from others who can relate to what you are going through.
- Get to know yourself a bit! What are some things you enjoy doing? What are your hobbies? Can you build up your support network? How have you handled stress in the past? There is no one-size-fits-all way to deal with stress, but learning about yourself will help you hatch a plan that works for you.
- Practice consistent self-care. Take “fertility breaks” (whether it be a few hours or a weekend) to do something you enjoyed before starting fertility treatment. Explore activities that took a backseat when you started treatment. If you find you need a longer break from treatment, that's okay too.
- Practice breath work, or utilize a relaxation or mindfulness app. Some of my favorite apps that I often recommend to help with this include Ferti Calm, Insight Timer, Happy Not Perfect, Calm, and Expectful.
- Similar to breath work, you can practice repeating a mantra to calm your mind and focus in on your goals. Here's a guided video to help you create your first fertility mantra.
- Rely on your physician and your team for medical advice and to answer any questions or concerns you have. Not the internet or Dr. Google.
- Seek out a therapist who can provide you with professional guidance as you manage your fertility treatment. If you’re a patient at RMA of CT, feel free to schedule a chat with Lisa Schuman, LCSW or myself. We have worked with many fertility patients over the years and we are happy to help you at any point during your journey.
Personally, I find that breathing exercises work wonders to immediately reduce stress! But it's all about finding the tools that are right for you and your personal challenges. Don't feel discouraged if the first tactic you try doesn't work - there are so many different things out there that can help you manage stress.
It's Never Too Early (or Late) to Manage Your Stress
Your fertility journey is a personal one, and the way you manage it emotionally is unique to you. Always remember, there are many tools that you can utilize that can help you get through it the best way you can. Starting to incorporate some of these into your everyday life can go a long way in helping to manage your stress as you go through treatment - and beyond.
Want more mental health tips? Check out this video: