Receiving an infertility diagnosis is an incredibly emotional experience for both men and women that can provoke feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety, and grief. When dealing with infertility and going through treatment, it’s important to allow yourself to feel your feelings and have compassion for yourself. Your feelings are valid and absolutely normal given what you’re going through.
However, it’s also essential that you don’t let infertility and your treatment plan overwhelm your entire life. A high level of stress can be harmful to your overall well-being and may hinder your conception. Studies have shown that while stress isn’t a cause of infertility there is a correlation between stress and lower fertilization, longer time to pregnancy, and negatively impacted sperm samples.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so it’s the perfect time to check in on how you’re feeling and take steps to cope with the stress of infertility. We asked Dr. Tiffany Edwards, Ph.D., M.P.H., a licensed clinical psychologist at FCI, for self-care practices that may benefit anyone going through treatment:
Build a strong support system. Struggling with infertility may feel like an isolating experience, but that doesn’t mean you have to go through it alone. Having a strong support system can help you cope throughout your journey. In fact, many of our patients credit their support systems for helping them survive the emotional rollercoaster of treatment and stay positive.
There are several avenues for support like leaning on family, friends, and your partner, working with a therapist, participating in online community forums for infertility, and attending support groups with other infertility warriors. FCI offers monthly support groups that are open to anyone dealing with infertility or is a single woman trying to conceive, as well as quarterly support groups for anyone who has been affected by pregnancy loss. FCI patients can also schedule a consultation with a member of our behavioral health team during their treatment as needed. I often see patients during a waiting period, or at the beginning and end of treatment. There is no right or wrong time to seek support during your journey.
Practice mindfulness. Infertility may cause great uncertainty which makes it easy to become preoccupied with worry about the future. Mindfulness is a practice where you focus on being intensely aware of what you're sensing and feeling in the moment, including thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment, without interpretation or judgment. There are several mindfulness exercises like meditation, deep breathing, keeping a gratitude journal, and practicing positive affirmations that can help you stay in the moment. These activities can help you relax, boost your overall mood, and return blood pressure, heart rate, digestive function, and hormonal levels to their normal state.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle. There’s a deep relationship between physical and emotional health, often referred to as the mind-body connection. That’s why you may be achier or more fatigued than usual when stressed or feel extra crummy when you eat too much junk food. Eating a nutrient-rich diet, limiting alcohol, quitting smoking, exercising, and getting enough sleep (at least 7 hours a night) can improve your overall mood and physical wellbeing.
Do what you love. Stress from treatment and the preoccupation with getting pregnant can be all-consuming if you let it. Continue to engage in the activities that bring you joy and help you cope with stress. If you’re struggling to get motivated, make a list of activities you enjoy. You can even recruit someone from your support system to help you if needed!
Remember, be kind to yourself on your journey. There are many resources available, some at no cost, so be sure to take advantage of them!
Dr. Tiffany Edwards is a licensed clinical psychologist and patient educator. In her career, she has worked with patients to address a wide variety of psychological and health-related issues such as anxiety, depression, cancer survivorship, women’s health issues, stress management, and more.