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Managing Stress & Anxiety During Your Fertility Journey

Making a baby should be an enjoyable experience, but, for some, it can be extremely stressful. Between all the planning, worrying and reading every article you find on Google, how can you stay calm?

Every situation is unique. You may have had one child and are now suddenly facing fertility challenges trying for a second. Or, you may experience challenges considering IVF treatment (which can be stressful and overwhelming in itself). You just want the stress to stop interfering with your journey. …But how?

It’s unlikely that stress alone will cause infertility.

Chronic stress can lead to a lowered desire to have sex and may delay ovulation – but doesn’t doesn’t cause infertility in men and women alone. You probably wanted to hear that.

While that may be true, the impact of infertility can significantly strain a couple’s relationship. Those struggles can reach family and friends, create financial difficulties and even affect a couple’s sexual relationship. All of those can cause undue stress.

While stress may not cause you infertility–infertility can cause you stress. Infertility is usually related to age, underlying physical conditions, or behaviors that could temporarily interfere with your fertility. Understanding that–stop blaming yourself. Fertility journeys are built differently for every couple–and while yours may seem long, it doesn’t mean the path isn’t worth venturing.

Understanding what you can do to cope with the stress of infertility is just one step to helping you on this journey. Let’s go into what infertility is and ways of managing the anxiety through it.

What is infertility?

Infertility is the inability of a couple to get pregnant despite having regular unprotected sex for over two years. You may have been trained to think that infertility is a woman’s issue more than their male counterpart’s–but it is pretty evenly split. About 40 percent of infertility is due to male issues, 40 percent due to female factors, and 20 percent from complications impacting both partners.

Read More: When to see a fertility specialist.

These factors (and challenges) are often unspoken and can lead to stress defined in uncertainty. Communication is just one factor in infertility – as several others can generate stress in your day-to-day. So what can you do?

How do you deal with the stress of infertility?

Finding healthy ways to deal with your ongoing stress can be challenging. Knowing where to start can be overwhelming – but there are many a few things you can focus on.

Communication: Making sure you’re talking to your partner during this period is crucial. Share your feelings, needs, worries and mutual ways you cope (and acknowledge how you both cope differently). Talk about the differences and look for ways to avoid conflict. Neither of you is to blame! If only we could control what our bodies did (and how they act). You can also talk to others to express your feelings. You do not have to go into details with them, but express how they can support you in this journey. Sometimes, you’ll uncover that many people around you have experienced similar journeys. If you feel comfortable doing so – communicate.

Sexual Stress: Sex can quickly turn into feeling like an obligation (or duty) versus being a fun activity for you and your partner. Sexual stress is very common amongst couples dealing with infertility–as you’re focusing on the result of sex versus the act of it.

Taking a break from the baby-making and making time to enjoy each other through other types of sensual contact can help strengthen your bond together. Focus on enjoying each others company.

Relaxation Techniques: With the stress from your fertility journey, developing healthy relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation and imagery can help you transition to a more peaceful mindset.

This can also be treating yourself to self-care. Make sure you get enough sleep, exercise, alone time, and share time with others who make you feel cared for. Practice being your own best friend.

Cognitive restructuring: One of the biggest reasons patients drop out of fertility treatments is that they feel it’s hopeless. You shouldn’t feel this way, but those feelings are completely expected. Cognitive restructuring is giving yourself a new way to think about your journey. Some nights you may focus on hopeless thoughts and convince yourself it’s not worth wasting energy on your fertility journey. Other nights your thoughts are in a much better place. Being hopeful can result in new strategic behavior that leads to positive self-fulfilling thoughts.

Learn: Educating yourself on infertility is just one step, but talking to others who may understand what you’re going through can help bring peace of mind. Advocating for yourself to your OB-GYN with the research you’ve done can help you understand treatment options and make sure your OB-GYN understands you want to talk deeper (and want more profound answers).

You can also use national fertility organizations like RESOLVE to build confidence through shared experiences. You can find a local support group through their website.

Does managing stress improve your fertility?

Maybe. There aren’t many well-researched studies on the success of fertility when managing stress. Available research does suggest managing stress levels has a positive effect. Programs focusing on mind and body have improved pregnancy rates in women with infertility. In one recent study, 55% of women involved in a mind-body program were able to get pregnant compared to 20% who were not in the program.

A mind-body program is a holistic approach that emphasizes the connection between your body and mind. Mind-body activities can improve one’s overall health and enhance resilience during the most stressful times.

The mind-body program consists of relaxation techniques, stress management, group support, and coping skills training. Partners are included in most sessions, and the program ranges from 5 to 10 sessions.

How do you manage fertility stress while working?

You’ve probably taken time off work for appointments and treatments already. If you experience prolonged treatments, it can put a strain on your work and your work relationships. Being honest with your employer can be challenging since it’s opening yourself up to being vulnerable to those who may not have your best interests at heart.

It can cause you stress.

But, being open about your needs at work and utilizing your time off is the best way to put yourself first. Be prepared for tough periods at work, but be positive in what the longterm results for YOU are.

What are common myths about infertility (that could be causing you stress)?

Infertility is a woman’s problem: It’s medieval thinking that infertility is a woman’s problem, yet this myth continues. Did you know that as men age, their semen decreases in volume and motility? Probably not–it’s not often reported. If you’re considering visiting a fertility specialist, your partner should as well.

High libido will lead to fewer infertility problems: Your sex drive does not affect fertility. It’s also perceived that men with a greater sex drive are more fertile – but again, this isn’t true. There’s no correlation between sex drive and fertility.

Couples should always try for a year before seeing an OB-GYN: While infertility is defined by unprotected sex for a year (or two) without conception – it’s more a guideline than the rule. You should seek advice earlier, especially if you’re over the age of 35 and have a history of:

  • Irregular periods
  • Fibroids are abnormal growths that develop in or on a woman's uterus.
  • Endometriosis is a painful disorder in which tissue similar to the tissue that normally lines inside your uterus grows outside your uterus.
  • Pelvis adhesive disease is a condition in which scar tissue binds adjacent organs to each other. The organs in your abdominal cavity are coated in a slippery tissue that allows those adjacent organs to glide easily against each other.
  • Ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilized egg implants and grows outside the central cavity of the uterus.
  • Multiple miscarriages

For males, if you have a history of surgery, infection, or trauma to the genitals, you should seek medical advice sooner.

Birth control can cause infertility: Your birth control pill doesn’t affect fertility positively or negatively. Your menstrual cycle will almost always return within two months of stopping birth control.

Infertility can’t happen in young women and men: Age is a factor for women and men – but younger men and women deal with it too. 1 in 10 women faces infertility before reaching the age of 30.

Managing your stress during your fertility journey will not always be possible. Factors such as your partner, family, friends, or even work can bring unneeded anxiety to your life. Finding healthy ways to manage that stress can help you (and your partner) enjoy this process a bit more.

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