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Suggestions for Coping with the Stress of Infertility

Manage Stress During Fertility Treatment

Suggestions for Coping with the Stress of Infertility

Jul 18, 2023

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. The body responds to stress in three different ways: physically, mentally, and emotionally. And as we all know, stress is a normal (and unavoidable) 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 our bodies have a “fight or flight” response.

But when we're dealing with chronic stress (for example, due to infertility), it's important to learn how to manage it in a healthy way to avoid the negative side effects of stress and maintain balance and wellbeing. 


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 part of 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.

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. Keep reading to find out how!

Does stress impact my fertility?

At some point in your quest to grow your family, it's likely 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 all 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.

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.

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.

The response leads to a decrease in heart rate, breathing rate, and muscle tension, and causes oxygen rates to fall below resting levels. This in turn decreases the adverse physical and psychological effects of chronic stress.

There are many methods to elicit the relaxation response including visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, energy healing, acupuncture, massage, breathing techniques, prayer, meditation, tai chi, qi gong, and yoga. 


Find the Tools that Work for You

The good news is that 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 resources can only help you on your journey. 

Here at Chawla Nursing Home & Maternity Hospital, Jalandhar 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. 

10 Ways to Manage and Reduce Stress

In addition to the above suggestions, here are eleven more tips for managing and reducing stress that are specifically tailored to patients going through fertility treatment:

#1 Make a List of Priorities

Before taking on new commitments, evaluate whether now is the right time to add something else to your plate. Don't be afraid to say no to requests from friends, family or work to ensure you don't get overwhelmed.

#2 Find a Fertility Friend or Support Group

Chawla Nursing Home & Maternity Hospital, Jalandhar offers ongoing support groups as does RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. Support groups are a safe place to vent, talk about how you're really doing, and hear from others who can relate. Facebook and Instagram also have strong fertility communities and can help you find new friends by connecting you to others who truly understand what you're going through.

#3 Get to Know Yourself Again

What are some things you enjoy doing? What are your hobbies? Who's in 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 personalized self-care plan that works for you.

#4 Give yourself a mental health check-up

Look for the three “D” s. They are often signs of psychological overload:

  1. Disorganization - The pen was in your hand and now it’s gone from the face of the earth. Even worse, when you spot it, it’s right in front of you.
  2. Decision-making difficulties - Not the big decisions, like who to vote for, but the little decisions, like what to order for lunch.
  3. Dependency needs - Wishing for others to take care of daily life we used to enjoy. If you have even one of these symptoms, its time to make your mental health a priority and try the strategies that follow.


#5 Practice Breath Work

Find some breathing exercises that feel good to you (for example, box breathing) or utilize a relaxation or mindfulness app for some guided breath work. Some of my favorite apps are Ferti CalmInsight TimerHappy Not PerfectCalm, and Expectful

#6 Focus on your work

As stressful and preoccupying as fertility treatments can be, work can provide an effective distraction from the persistent anxiety you may be feeling from infertility. Staying busy and active with projects can distract you, give you a sense of accomplishment, and help boost your self-esteem and confidence.


#7 Try cognitive restructuring

Cognition refers to thinking; restructuring refers to creating new views. Together these terms tell us that we can choose to think in a new way and the result can be new behaviors and feelings. For example, when we focus on hopeless thoughts, we convince not only ourselves but everyone around us that hope is not worth wasting energy on, and our inertia can make it true. This thought process is one of the major reasons patients drop out of fertility treatment. On the other hand, if we choose to be hopeful, we are more likely to approach problems with strategic behavior that leads to results that justify our hope – positive self-fulfilling prophecies.

#8 Trust Your Care Team

Remember to rely on your physician and Care Team for medical advice instead of turning to the internet or Dr. Google. Your team will be able to provide tailored advice and support and answer any questions or concerns you may have.

#9 Seek Out a Therapist

A good therapist can provide you with professional guidance as you manage infertility and fertility treatment. If you’re a patient at Chawla Fertility Clinic, we are available to support you with individual or couples' counseling sessions. We have worked with many fertility patients over the years and are happy to help you at any point during your journey. Ask your Patient Navigator to help you book an appointment!

#10 Create a Mental Health Toolbox

Building a mental health toolbox is an incredibly helpful way to ensure your self-care resources are close at hand for difficult days. You can do this by creating a list on your phone, putting items (like a stress ball or favorite candle) in a physical box, or whatever works best for you.

Here are some suggestions for what to add to your toolbox: photos of loved ones, encouraging notes from friends or family, positive affirmations, mediation or relaxation apps, a playlist of your favorite songs to cheer you, phone numbers of people you trust, or other tools.


It's Never Too Early (or Late) to Manage Your Stress

Personally, I find that breathing exercises work wonders to immediately reduce my 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 and reduce 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. 

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