How to take a Mind Body approach to your fertility health and overcome fertility-related stress.
Hospital visits, calendar watching, ongoing test results and scheduled sex can make trying for a baby a stressful experience for the one in six couples currently experiencing fertility problems. It can be difficult to decide whether you should take into account lifestyle factors and continue trying naturally or whether to move from one treatment approach to another. Though some stress is an unavoidable part of going through this uncertain chapter in your life, there is an increasing body of evidence highlighting the benefits of reducing emotional and psychological stress and the positive effect that can have on optimising treatment outcomes.
At the very least, it will give you the resilience and emotional balance needed to experience a more self-empowered fertility treatment process.
The most recent research tracked 23,000 women in Sweden undertaking IVF in an ongoing study since 2007. This significant study published in March this year showed that women with depression or anxiety had lower rates of pregnancy and live birth rates than those who did not have depression or anxiety. This also correlates with recent research from the US where stress biomarkers were measured in 401 couples trying to conceive, over a 12-month period.
The findings concluded that “higher levels of stress as measured by salivary alpha-amylase are associated with a longer time to pregnancy and an increased risk of infertility.” Similar research in the UK observed 274 women between the ages of 18- 40 trying to get pregnant and concluded that “stress significantly reduced the probability of conception each day during the fertile window, possibly exerting its effect through the sympathetic medullar pathway.”
As outlined earlier, it is normal to experience stress as part of any medical treatment process or if we feel our heartfelt desires are being challenged in some way. It is understandable when your whole heart longs for a baby and you are giving yourselves the best chance of getting pregnant that there are times of stress, low mood and a feeling of being out of balance with yourself. However, taking an integrative mind body approach to your fertility health can help to support you in regaining a sense of emotional, psychological and physical balance so that you can be at the centre of your fertility process. The benefits of taking a mind body approach to fertility health may include lower stress levels, improved overall mood due to clarity of mind, healthier relationships and an increased sense of wellbeing.
Taking an integrative mind body approach to your fertility health includes taking charge of:
- Stress reduction and looking after your emotional/psychological health
- Integrating a fertility-promoting diet
- Making positive lifestyle changes
- Combining the best assisted reproductive treatment if required with the health-promoting benefits of the most appropriate natural therapies – asking the right questions and doing some research can help you choose the right fit for your needs
Here are some straightforward first steps towards improving your mind body balance and enhancing your fertility health:
Step 1: A healthy mind promotes a healthy body
“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf” – Jon Kabat Zinn (Director of Mindfulness in Medicine & Healthcare, University of Massachusetts)
Understanding how repeated stress can impact on your body can help you to move out of automatic pilot and become more aware of the symptoms before they escalate. It is important to understand the difference between anxiety versus concern, and low mood versus sadness, and how to support yourself during challenging times. By understanding grief and loss you will be enabled to move through the healing process and, if necessary, choose a fertility counselling approach suited to your needs.
Step 2: Take charge of your mind body fertility health
Mindfulness increases our ability to recognise our stress triggers and respond rather than react to them.
Increasing mindful awareness will help you to manage psychological, physiological and emotional fertility related experiences in a calm and clear way. Incorporating mindfulness-based stress reduction for fertility skills, such as sitting meditations, the three minute mindful check-in, the body scan, restorative yoga and mindful walking meditations, will enable you to feel empowered and deeply relaxed.
Step 3: Utilise the healing power of journaling
Keeping a journal is both therapeutic and pragmatic. It offers a non-judgmental space in which to express difficult or repeated thoughts and emotions. This will help you to reflect on and overcome any issues before moving forward with confidence. Journaling helps you to access your ‘wise mind’ – bringing balance to your emotional and reasoning self, important for any decision-making or healing process. Journaling can be very helpful to support clarity of mind and emotional expression.
Step 4: Understanding your medical treatment choices
I regularly hear individuals and couples expressing that they wish they’d known what was involved in their treatment options so they could have considered the implications of one treatment choice over another. It is important to bear in mind the short- and long-term implications of each treatment choice and how to gain the most from it.
Step 5: Use natural health therapies to enhance your conception chances
Natural health therapy can support the physical process of fertility and the impact of treatment. Whether you choose acupuncture or biodynamic massage, complementary therapies have been shown to promote your overall fertility health. When selecting any therapist, it is important to do some research regarding their qualifications, experience and approach.
Do they understand the treatment you are undertaking?
Are they experienced in fertility-related problems and support?
Can they work well with other approaches? True complementary therapists are also open to medical support and vice versa.
Step 6: Use nutrition boost fertility
Making certain diet and lifestyle choices, and supplements to as well as taking supplements with fertility-boosting nutrients, supports your overall fertility health and can improve your natural conception chances, as well as complementing your assisted reproductive treatment.
Step 7: Balance your body and mind with restorative yoga and mindful movement
Restorative yoga and mindful movement can reduce physical tension and the physiological impact of treatment as well as restore self-compassion by focusing on reconnecting you with your body and regaining your intuitive wisdom.
Step 8: Take a solution focused approach to your mind health
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based therapeutic approach that can help you to recognise and change any thoughts or beliefs which do not support you on your fertility journey.
The skills gained by integrating CBT can work towards improving all areas of your life and relationships, by increasing positive change in how you think and what you do to improve how you feel. We need to invest in our psychological and emotional health just as we do in our physical health.
CBT and mindfulness can be a helpful workout for the mind.
Step 9: Nurture yourself and communicate your needs effectively
Taking care of your emotional wellbeing will provide you with the resources to move through your fertility issues with more ease and self-compassion.
It is easy to get lost in the appointments, injections and planning involved in fertility treatment. It is therefore important to refocus on other areas of your life, nurturing your self-care. Learning helpful communication and assertiveness skills will also benefit you in all your relationships, as well as ensuring your voice is heard in the consulting room.
Step 10: Enhance your relationship
We all respond differently to stressful situations. For some couples it brings them closer together as they gain a deeper empathy and understanding towards each other. For others, it creates a rupture in the relationship as hurt deepens into toxic resentment towards one another.
By understanding our relationship blueprints, we can begin to foster healthier and more loving relationship styles.
Incorporating nurturing and conflict resolution exercises also contributes towards caring attitudes and behaviours in the relationship. Healing touch and mindfulness practice can encourage intimacy, ensuring that you remain best friends throughout the positive and more challenging times of fertility treatment.