By: Martine Jones, Clinical Psychologist (Psy. D.)
Today is National Stress Awareness Day and the concept couldn’t be more linked to fertility. One of the most common things I hear from my infertility clients is that they worry that the stress that they are experiencing as a result of infertility struggles will further contribute to their infertility. Let me start out by reassuring you that there is currently no empirical evidence that this is true. It is appropriate and often unavoidable to experience high levels of stress when going through infertility and assisted reproduction. You do not need to carry the double burden of both going through infertility and then worrying that you are stressing too much about it. Stressed out people have babies all the time!
Now, onto why stress management matters. Stress feels very uncomfortable – wouldn’t you agree? If you’re struggling to conceive, there are often feelings of stigma and social isolation, relationship challenges, and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that you’re dealing with. Stress management techniques can help to alleviate all of these things.
So let’s get to it! What can you start doing today to manage your stress?
- Induce your relaxation response
When we’re all keyed up, we’re in fight or flight mode and our sympathetic nervous system is firing on all cylinders. This is what can lead to muscle tension, rapid, shallow breathing, irritability, and all the things that make stress feel so uncomfortable. We can combat this by inducing the parasympathetic nervous system, AKA our relaxation response. Here is a starter list of things you can try, pick the ones that best fit into your lifestyle and that you enjoy the most: diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, physical exercise, and yoga.
- Connect with people
To combat feelings of social isolation that can exacerbate stress, you can reach out to trusted people in your life or connect with others who are in similar situations. Call a friend who understands or schedule a special date night with your partner. Join a local or virtual infertility support group online. Podcasts can also be a great way to feel connected to others who are in the same boat and to feel less alone.
- Talk kindly to yourself
Did you know that we can actually induce the stress response or the relaxation response based on how we talk to ourselves? Take some time today to notice all the times that you say things to yourself that you would never say to a friend. For example: “You’re never going to get pregnant”, “Everyone thinks you’re a failure”, “You did something to deserve this”. Now, practice saying “STOP” to that awful voice and then saying something to yourself that you would say to a dear friend. For example: “This is hard, it’s okay to feel scared.” “You didn’t do anything to deserve this, sometimes life is just not fair.” “Uncertainty is so painful, you will eventually get through this.”
- Take Action
There are so many things we can’t control when we’re going through infertility and assisted reproduction. These feelings of helplessness can lead to increased stress. From a practical standpoint, think of some things you may have been avoiding that you can take action on. Putting off calling the fertility clinic to make that first consultation appointment? Do it now. Thinking of meal prepping so that you can take on thing off of your day-to-day decision-making list? Get those batch meals cooked! Resisting looking into what might be affecting your ability to conceive? Jump online and do some research on a factual website like ASRM Reproductive Facts. Empower yourself to do what is in your control.
In conclusion, feeling stressed will not prevent you from getting pregnant. I can’t emphasize this enough! But feeling stressed is no fun for anyone, and it can tax your resilience during to the long and often arduous process of trying to get pregnant. So take care of yourself by engaging in some stress management techniques. There’s no better day than today!
To book an appointment with Dr. Martine Jones click here!