Infertility can be a considerable life trauma to experience, affecting people in a multitude of different ways. And going through IVF treatment can increase stress levels considerably. Read on to understand how infertility and IVF can be affected by stress.
Each stage of a fertility journey can present potentially difficult challenges. When trying to conceive it is common to struggle with a feeling of lack of control, grief, identity and existential issues.
It isn’t a new concept that our mind can have a physical effect on our bodies and there have been many studies on the links between stress and infertility. However, this is still a highly debated subject and there is no conclusive evidence that stress negatively affects fertility and the chances of conceiving during IVF. Some women may be more reproductively sensitive to stress than others and many cases have been reported where reducing stress through lifestyle changes has helped some women get pregnant.
Stress can also cause us to result in unhealthy ‘coping’ mechanisms such as smoking, drinking alcohol, drinking more caffeine or eating more unhealthy foods, all of which could also affect your fertility negatively. This advice also applies to men when trying to conceive, as stress can activate the release of certain steroid hormones which can reduce the levels of testosterone and sperm production and cause semen quality to decrease.
When we get stressed, we produce stress hormones such as cortisol, which is like adrenaline and can push our metabolism into high gear. This can cause the heart rate to increase, shallow breathing and sustained levels of this can also cause high blood pressure, weight gain or other health issues. These can also cause us to feel sad, and irritable and experience headaches and sleeping problems.
Due to our fight or flight response in the body, when we experience highly stressful situations, our bodies will always prioritise bodily functions which are essential for survival. For example, some women can have a late period when experiencing high levels of stress for a prolonged amount of time.
How to cope with stress during IVF and other fertility treatments?
It is always very important to look after your psychological and emotional health; however, it may be even more so while going through fertility treatment. Because despite the research, it can be agreed that stress makes any fertility journey more difficult and we need to take extra special care to look after and be kind to ourselves during these times.
It is important to find the right support. It’s great if you have family and friends who can support you throughout your journey. However, people close to you might not always be the best support system. Infertility is difficult to understand unless you have some experience of it, and while wanting to do the best, loved ones may not always know the best thing to say or do. Sometimes considering counselling or joining a support group during this time might be more beneficial.
Relationships are important and if you are going through treatment with a partner, communication through this time is key to your welfare. Couples often report experiencing different feelings at different parts of the treatment and partners may have different ways of dealing with stress. This can often be difficult; it is important to be kind to each other during this time. It may also be helpful to see a therapist who will be able to help understand the differences.
Support groups offer a space where you can explore how you feel with people who have similar experiences to you. Support groups provide an opportunity not to feel alone and to learn from others how to deal with stress. Support groups can be physical meetings or can be in the form of online forums and social media groups.
Seeking professional help
Counselling can offer a safe and confidential place to explore how you feel and what you think. It can offer a non-judgemental space where you can explore ways of negotiating your way through your fertility journey and learn coping skills to deal with stress and IVF, as well as other difficult feelings.
Fertility meditation and mindfulness
The fear of a negative treatment outcome promotes anxiety and stress. Learning how to take each day, a moment at a time can help alleviate this. The practice of mindfulness and meditation helps with staying in the present and in turn, teaches us not to focus on the unknown future or painful past. This can help keep our minds focused and reduce feelings of anxiety. There are many ways of doing this, including small exercises you can try throughout your day, such as closing your eyes and focusing on the sounds you can hear. There are also a number of YouTube videos and apps which can help with this, like Calm and Headspace.
Writing down our feelings and thoughts has been proven to have therapeutic qualities, jotting these down at the time of experiencing them or keeping a journal is one of the coping strategies that is often used by those who are going through fertility treatment.
Exercise is known to aid emotional wellbeing and relieve stress. When trying to conceive it is important to do the right amount of exercise, as doing too much may also have a negative effect. Light exercises such as walking, swimming and yoga are great for keeping fit and relieving stress. Specifically, hatha yoga has shown to be particularly good effective for stress, as it focuses on breathing and so will also work in a meditative way.
Having the right diet can help with increasing your fertility and also with the easing of stress.
Drinking herbal teas such as chamomile, and eating certain foods such as brazil nuts, healthy fats from fish, avocado and eggs, leafy greens, whole grain carbohydrates and vitamin C-rich foods have all been linked to reducing stress. Dark chocolate, despite feeling like an indulgence, when eaten in moderation can reduce stress hormones in the body due to its antioxidant properties.
How we can help
Here at The Evewell we deeply care about the well-being of you and your loved ones. If you are feeling particularly stressed or worried please get in touch with us and we can help. If that’s having a consultation with one of our doctors to guide you through your journey, putting you in touch with a nutritionist or referring you to our fertility counsellor, we’re here.