For millions of people struggling with infertility, a toll is taken on their mental health as expectations go unmet. Around 15% of couples face infertility which often leads to anxiety and emotional distress in both men and women experiencing deep feelings of grief and loss. Undergoing medical treatment, the ongoing toll of expenses and the general uncertainty surrounding the outcome can even leave people avoiding those who could offer emotional support and consolation. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
How Stress Works
When you are stressed, your body produces an automatic response flooding your system with hormones and increased heart rate, blood pressure and adrenaline. Over time, this chronic stress can leave you feeling exhausted, having trouble concentrating, feeling irritable and battling stress headaches. Considering that even normal conception depends on the optimal mix of hormonal and biological components, you can imagine how this imbalance affects your system. In fact, couples reporting feeling good actually achieve conception at a higher rate than those reporting feeling tense and anxious. Women with high-stress levels also experience lowered IVF success rates than their more calm counterparts.
Fertility patients often experience anxiety and depression, especially if the treatment is demanding and invasive, both physically and emotionally. Undergoing failed monthly fertility cycles can lead to anger, betrayal, guilt, sadness and yes, even hopelessness. While couples often engage sexually to bond emotionally, this connection can suffer if the outcome is infertility. This laser focus on fertility, when it is unsuccessful, can make sex feel forced and leave you or your partner frustrated. For couples who are religious, their ongoing infertility struggle can leave them feeling abandoned by their God. Add to the mix the pressure of ongoing medical expenses that consume valuable resources, leaving less disposable income for raising future children.
Feeling supported by family and friends should be reassuring but unfortunately, not everyone knows how to be uplifting with their advice. Here are some cringe-worthy comments you might hear if you are struggling with infertility or have suffered a miscarriage, according to Dr. Eynav E. Accortt, Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology in an article about Infertility and Mental Health.
“Enjoy this time, trying is the fun part.”
“Just relax and it will happen.”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“If you have more faith in God, it will happen.”
“At least you know you can get pregnant (after a miscarriage).”
For those wanting to share words of encouragement, listening is everything. If you don’t know what to say, it can be helpful just to listen, and offer a hug.
“Infertility is so challenging, do you want to talk about it?”
“I wish you didn’t have to go through this.”
“How are you doing? I am always here for you.”
“I’m so sorry for your loss. I am bringing dinner over.”
Getting the support you need goes a long way to managing the stress in your life. Good coping strategies help you think clearly when it comes to those family-building goals that will bring you closer to successful conception.
-Exercises: Aerobic walking, yoga, and relaxation training are good for both body and mind.
-Mind-body groups: Helping you achieve a relaxed state through meditation, guided imagery, journaling, drawing, breathwork, movement and biofeedback.
-Reading self-help books: Stories about infertility and stress can give hope and inspiration.
-Getting psychotherapy: A therapist can guide you through your grief and loss and navigate marital and nonmarital relationships.
-Joining national family support groups: Path2Parenthood and Resolve are nonprofit organizations helping those undergoing fertility treatment and wanting to start a family. They offer libraries of materials from experts at no charge.
When it comes to your mental health while trying to conceive, having mental health screenings at the start of your infertility treatment process can be beneficial to your continued well-being. While stress may not be the underlying factor in infertility, it can still contribute to less favorable outcomes. Our Utah Fertility Center specialists know how stress and mental health affect you on your family-building journey and are here to help!