fbpx How to Manage Stress While Dealing With Fertility Issues

Fertility - Coping with Infertility | April 22, 2021, 8:04 CDT

How to Manage Stress While Dealing With Fertility Issues

Coping skills are essential to navigating fertility issues effectively.
Photography by David Heisler

Even though stress doesn't cause infertility, coping with stress while struggling to conceive can wreak havoc on someone's mental health. This is the reality for an estimated 186 million people globally who report fertility issues, according to the World Health Organization. And those who explore options like in vitro fertilization (IVF) can face a pressure-packed process due to substantial costs, hormonal impacts, anticipatory anxiety, higher rates of miscarriage and so on.

Become aware of your stress

"Regaining your calm and balance helps not only your physical and reproductive health, but also your relationship and your sex life," said Seattle-based psychologist Sarah Rattray, Ph.D. She recommends that the first step in managing your stress is admitting its existence, as the tension can creep up over time and added stressors can build on all others. "Your body, fertility and relationship will thank you for noticing and taking action as soon as possible."

Jenn, a 41-year-old writer, who resides with her partner in Ottawa, Ontario, said that due to the stigma infertility carries—like disappointing family members and friends—her husband's relatives are largely unaware of the challenges they faced to start a family in their mid-30s. Since Jenn lives in Canada, she had full coverage and access to healthcare providers, including an OB-GYN and even a psychologist who specializes in fertility for one IVF cycle.

Although Jenn and her spouse paid for additional IVF treatments that the Canadian healthcare wouldn't cover, she said access to publicly funded healthcare was crucial to their fertility journey. In their province, the Ontario Health Insurance Plan funds one IVF treatment cycle per patient, including the one-at-a-time transfer of all viable embryos, artificial insemination (AI), intrauterine insemination (IUI) and fertility preservation for medical reasons, and an additional cycle if acting as a surrogate. For some people, it's nearly impossible to pay out of pocket, putting an extreme financial burden on couples trying to conceive.

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Devote time to purposeful activities

Given the stress of fertility challenges and its treatment, Rattray recommends that patients spend 20 to 30 minutes a day devoted to a relaxing activity—whatever works best for them. Specifically, she recommends trying anything that helps slow your heartbeat down, relieves the tension in your muscles, reduces your blood pressure and helps your racing mind to let go. While addressing worry isn't the only factor in successfully navigating fertility issues, Rattray acknowledges that it can help to experiment with several activities to explore different outcomes. For instance, it may be a long hot bath or a quick shower, spending time with your pet, lying on the grass looking up at the sky or a simple breathing exercise.

While an effective approach to managing stress may differ for each individual, a 2018 article published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine found that a yoga intervention can help to address the stress from fertility issues, including positioning the baby for birth, reduction in pain, relieving depression and anxiety, and ultimately an improvement in fetal outcomes.

Jenn noted that her healthcare providers helped mitigate the stress she was feeling about the uncertainty of IVF by reminding her that the hormones she was on were creating an environment conducive to ovulation and conception.

"So even though I may be feeling a particular way, the fertility treatments were actually helping my body to do the work," Jenn said. "That idea was freeing."

For Jenn, coming to terms with the limitations of fertility treatment forced her to think about other aspects of her life and career, and eventually apply to go back to university. "Shortly after I was accepted to a program, I learned I was pregnant with our first child [from IVF]," she said. "It was a wild turn of events, but I like to think the feeling of taking back some control in my career extended itself to lowering my stress levels overall, helping with the fertility treatments."

Paying attention to your needs and budgeting time to manage stress can be imperative to your fertility journey. While it can be a bit of a process to find coping skills that work well, it is worth the effort to feel better as you invest in expanding your family.