Whether you’re trying to conceive naturally or with assistance, it can be very stressful. Making time for yourself and your partner can really help to reduce the pressure, and put you back on the path to parenthood.
For some, making babies is easy, some people fall pregnant as quickly as falling off that proverbial log. But for others it’s not so simple.
The monthly disappointments that accompany that ‘not pregnant’ symbol on the test quickly take their toll, and it seems as though the more you want it, the further it feels from reach. Each new disappointment isn’t an isolated event that you can quickly shrug off. They accumulate, piling hurt upon hurt. And then comes all that really useful advice: “just relax!”, “it’ll happen when you least expect it!”
You smile politely while fighting the urge to scream at the top of your lungs.
But that repressed scream is something you really shouldn’t ignore. While doctors concentrate on the physical aspects of the problems couples have conceiving, your emotional and mental health should be treated separately, and with (at very least) equal importance.
Even without the added strain of trying to conceive, we live – and work – in a high stress environment. Anxiety, pressure, tension. Every day we’re used to accepting and dealing with it as best we can, but the affect of stress on our health should not be underestimated. Indeed, a study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility has found that women who are anxious are 12% less likely to conceive during their fertile time than those who stay calm. The study of 274 of the age range 18 to 40 years, and all planning pregnancy, found that stress significantly reduced the probability of conception during each day during the fertile window.
“People have no idea how stressed they are until they stop,” says Lisa Whitehead, an holistic therapist specialising in fertility and positivity coaching.
“They’re not aware of how much pressure they’re putting on themselves, and often it’s issues they’re not even conscious of.”
Until recently, Lisa ran a national award-winning holistic clinic which was named the best holistic centre in the UK. Now, she works with the online Getalife UK team, and also operates privately offering reflexology and other treatments to women experiencing stress, anxiety and depression, as well as issues associated with fertility and birth. For those conception woes – something she prefers to call sub-fertility, rather than infertility – she likes to liaise primarily with couples, focusing predominantly on their emotional and mental wellbeing.
“It’s mind, body and spirit,” she says. “We can balance the body physically, but more often than not the reasons couples are not falling pregnant is down to emotional blocks, stress and anxiety. It can be issues they’re not even conscious of, from a deep subconscious fear of falling pregnant, to issues associated with the relationship they had with their own mother. You hold so much memory inside you and it affects the way you feel about yourself,” she says.
“I mirror back to people the negative language they use to describe themselves. I say ‘be careful what you say because your body is listening’ and just small shifts in the way they talk and think about themselves can make a huge difference.”
Lisa points out that everyday stresses tend to manifest themselves as a physical response in the body. Whether it’s a migraine, a stiff elbow or a bad back reminding you that you feel as if you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, the effects of stress can equally manifest in fertility issues.
Learning to properly relax and remove those pressures from your core can make a dramatic difference to a couple’s success rate. And it’s particularly important for men to acknowledge and discuss their feelings.
“They’re putting so much pressure on themselves it really affects the quality of their sperm,” explains Lisa, who says that if couples are going to go down the road of exploring their emotional and mental wellbeing they may have to be prepared to face issues they do not normally like to give voice to.
“They don’t want to talk about these things,” she says, “Especially men, because there is the notion that having fertility issues imply an admission of failure. That can be tough, because they tend to go inside themselves and may be feeling they’re not a proper man.”
These concerns and anxieties that we ten to brush under the carpet undoubtedly bring separation to a couple’s working mechanism, and at a time when they most need to be pulling together. Coupled with sex becoming more clinical and less intimate it’s no wonder that conception seems to become more distant the longer it continues.
Lisa says she works with couples helping them to “relieve that pressure and get the fun back into love making.” And she’s noted an 85% success rate in couples going down this route, even when they have diagnosed physical issues causing sub-fertility. She says there’s a step-by-step approach couples can take to help themselves.
“There are practical things you can do that will really help,” she says. “Take time for yourself, not just each other, look after your diet, and get plenty of rest. There are sensible steps like cutting out alcohol and tobacco, but also balancing of mind, body and spirit is going to help. Take up relaxation activities, go for a walk or a swim or try yoga,” she suggests.
The changes she sees in couples who’ve learned to address their stresses can be dramatic, not least because it’s handing the control of the situation back to those who’ve felt as if they have no control over what’s happening to them. “They feel like they’re owning it again,” says Lisa, “they’re creating the opportunities”.
Nutritionist and psychologist Dr Marilyn Glenville agrees that people under stress will adversely affect their ability to get pregnant. Her focus is on diet and nutrition and she says, “When people are under a lot of stress, that in itself will increase the need for certain nutrients. I take a whole look at what’s going on with their lifestyle – smoking, exercise, everything – and we consider lots of factors in combinations working positively or negatively on hormones and other fertility features.
“Fertility or infertility is stressful in itself, and trying to fi t in an IVF cycle with appointments and so on – whilst maybe not talking to people at work or loved ones about it – makes the whole thing something that’s not at all easy to juggle. But nutrients can combat the stress effect,” she says, “and it’s crucial because stress dampens libido, and for some women it can have a physical effect on their cycle.”
Dr Glenville says couples shouldn’t be afraid to look to their emotional and mental health when getting to the bottom of fertility problems. “That emotional side is important and it’s not as easy to address as physical issues,” she says.
“It’s much more elusive and is often the last on the list to be looked at.”
She believes couples should take time to work on relaxing, and suggests a range of exercises and therapies that apply “techniques that will have a stress-busting effect.”
Dr Glenville says it’s no coincidence that couples who’ve been trying a long time will suddenly fall pregnant when they go on holiday, or that we often hear those anecdotes about the couple who stopped trying and started the adoption process only to conceive out of the blue. “The letting go of pressure and stress is what makes the difference,” she says.
Dr Glenville believes it’s often harder for men who will internalise their feelings, perhaps experiencing guilt about being unable to give their partner a baby, and not talking to their partner because they don’t want to burden them. “They can’t separate the clinical bit from themselves as a man, that’s the battle. Overcoming that is the first step towards mentally recognising a solution,” she says.
So experts and studies increasingly agree that relieving stress and increasing relaxation is key to successful conception, and options for maximising a de-stress session are now many and varied. Different therapies and exercises will appeal to different people, more and more spas are realising that treatment designed for couples can provide something that a quick work-out session at the gym cannot.
Men may balk at the thought of attending a spa – the images of dressing gowns, mud packs and sliced cucumber often the most prominent – but the belief that these getaways are a female-only zone is something that owners are trying to change. And the attraction of couples in order to enhance aspects of fertility is a great way to change preconceptions. After all, if you want to get the intimacy and fun back into your baby-making, what better way than to relax together and enjoy a pampering that leaves you both feeling wonderful?
From those aforementioned mud bath treatments, where you smother each other in nutrient packed Serail mud, to steam rooms for two or side-by-side massage couches, in fact, recognising how negative stress can be on people’s lives, SenSpa in the New Forest has launched a Stress Management Package that includes a seminar featuring an expert from the Stress Management Society, someone who will help you recognise signs of stress, spot your own stress triggers and come up with a toolkit for combating stress as well as boosting your energy levels for ‘greater clarity, creativity and productivity’. And, like many spas now, they have a couples treatment room.
Spa at Chancery Court in London also have a couples suite which they say is very popular, and they place great emphasis on stress alleviation in their treatments. Spa manager Maria Haggo says, “Since we launched our male menu we’ve seen a huge increase in men coming for treatments and that has brought an increase in couples booking our Harmony Suite.
Whether it’s work-related stress or whatever, we focus on de-stressing and re-balancing, and it can have a really positive effect on a couple’s relationship. Often on a honeymoon you might have a massage together on the beach and we can replicate that feeling here, you can have your treatment side by side. It’s quite sensual and helps you feel better together.”
Maria says it seems to work as she’s noticed couples getting closer after a treatment. “They might arrive on a Friday afternoon after work feeling stressed and bickering at each other, and after their treatment they leave holding hands and being much closer.” It definitely sounds worth a try!
If you fancy the idea of a couple’s spa day out to unwind and relax together, why not check out one of our 5 top UK spas:
The Spa at Glasgow’s Blythswood Square hotel, incorporates nine luxury treatment rooms, two relaxation pools, a thermal suite, plus several couple focused packages, where you will be immersed into a calming and understated space with wellness as the key focus.
CHAMPNEYS AT TRING
This Hertfordshire based stately home boasts an outstanding health resort dedicated to the wellbeing of your mind, body and soul. Relax together in the steam room or take a full body massage, or a dip in the heated pool, there’s plenty to pamper and relax you.
This luxurious country-house hotel and spa is set in 130 acres of the New Forest National Park. and offers a wide range of facilities to suit your spa needs, with therapy rooms, health and beauty services, and couples packages to enjoy.
The Agua Spa in London provides pampering, spiritual relief, and tranquillity to all who enter. Offering an array of rejuvenating treatments combining the best of ancient and modern techniques, 14 treatment rooms, a chill-out zone and meditation beds, Agua Spa has a dreamy and almost cloud-like ambiance.
The Spa at Homewood Park, includes a sauna hydrotherapy pool, steam room and heated outside pool. The luxurious treatment menu promotes a mind, body and soul philosophy that promises to be a truly indulgent time.