Our lives are filled with stress. Busting at the seams, boiling over the top, big-time stress. Will I get there on time? How can I pay the bills? And what can I do to improve my health? It never seems to end. From the moment we open our eyes to the second our heads hit the pillow, we have found hundreds of things to stress over. We even stress over the weather!
How we deal with that stress and remain positive and productive can be difficult. Succumbing to the anxiety and negative emotions can be tempting; in many ways, it is easier than powering through, becoming stronger, and seeing the positive. Difficulty conceiving can rock the core of even the toughest individuals. Getting a negative result month after month can bring anyone to her knees. And the more negatives you get, the more stressful the situation becomes…stress on top of stress on top of stress. It would drive anyone crazy. Finding ways to relieve this stress, quell your anxiety, and cope with the situation at hand is key.
It seems pretty clear that stress plays some role in infertility. How big or how small is hard to define, as it is difficult to study the impact of stress on infertility. But there is definitive evidence that stress levels influence the outcome of fertility treatment and contribute to a patient’s decision to remain in treatment. Trying to get pregnant can be stressful; when something that you thought would just happen doesn’t, it can be incredibly difficult to deal with. And as you get deeper into the world of infertility, from Clomid to IVF to egg donation, studies show that the level of stress rises.
In a large study, more than 50% of women reported that infertility was the most upsetting experience of their lives. It was likened to a cancer diagnosis. After a failed cycle, most women reported feelings of depression, anxiety, anger, and isolation. Bottom line, it sucks. And it often sucks so bad, patients quit. They stop the race and pull off to the side of the road before hitting the finish line.
While it has always been assumed that the brake was a financial or medical reason, data shows that it is actually the emotional stress of the situation. In countries where IVF and fertility treatment are paid for by the government, patients still veer off the road (and not for a pit stop, but for a total stop) before using up all of their free cycles.
What is even more of a bummer is that, for most women, the longer you stay in the game, the better your chances are of scoring; the chance of success (having a baby) increases over time (more treatment cycles). This is not the place to quit while you are ahead. Rather, don’t quit until you have succeeded. The exception is when your doctor has deemed it medically unadvisable, given a poor prognosis.
One of the most common questions we are asked is “Is my stress causing my infertility?” The answer is flat out, without a doubt, no. Your stress, your eating habits, and your activity level are not causing your infertility (extreme situations aside!). You are not the culprit. You did not cause this. You did not make this happen, so stop blaming yourself. Don’t forget about self-compassion. You have compassion for your partner, your friends, and your co-workers, but not enough compassion for yourself. You beat yourself up for every failure, every loss, every bad event; doing this won’t change the situation.
Developing the skills to accept the situation, to stop fighting the outcome, and to move forward can often be the difference between success and failure. How this is accomplished can be different for different people. While we all have the image of the therapist on a couch, there are many different forms of counseling and types of psychological interventions. Use whatever works for you because if it works in not getting you worked up, it will likely have a positive effect on your treatment outcome and even improve your chance of pregnancy.
Do what relaxes you. Whether that be running, reading, or riding, if it relaxes you, it is good for you. Don’t sit around stressing about your stress…if you stress about stress, then you will just have more stress! We all find our inner peace and meditate in different ways. Not all of us do this on a couch. For some, it’s out on the track; for others, it’s in a house of worship. For many of us, it’s toasting with good friends. But what makes you Zen is what makes you stronger, calmer, and more skilled to cope with what lies ahead.
The road may be long and filled with lots of ups and downs. Developing the tools to navigate this unpaved path will not only allow you to stay on the road but also may make for a more positive outcome. Finding the right tools can be challenging, but the options are limitless. Explore meditation, yoga, exercise, acupuncture, support groups, cognitive behavioral therapy, and in some cases medications. Something is bound to fit.
Unfortunately, there will always be things to worry about, from the banal (Will I make the next train?) to the critical (Will my loved one survive this deadly disease?). Some will turn out good, and some will turn out bad. Learning to accept the unknown and recognizing that you have done all that you can will help alleviate a great deal of stress. Remember, you can’t live life in reverse. If you knew what was going to happen tomorrow, you would probably live your life differently today.
We are certainly not here to echo the words of your friends and family who say “If you just relax, it will happen,” because in all honesty, it might not. And your stress is likely not the reason you haven’t gotten pregnant. But it will make the situation worse and possibly have a negative impact on your fertility treatment. Take a deep breath, let it out, and do it again. You can get through this, and you will get through this. Turn your stress into something positive, and kick infertility’s behind!