This post was updated on May 20th, 2019
There’s no way, you just happened to land on this page by accident. The fact that you’re here means you understand firsthand the stress of infertility, and you may even be at your wits end right now? Trust me, I get it.
My husband and I have been trying to conceive for 4 years now, over which time I’ve had two miscarriages and two failed IVF attempts and two additional failed FET attempts. Our lack of success thus far is seriously testing both our emotional and financial reserves far more than we ever would have expected.
Through complete necessity however, infertility has forced me to get much better at managing the stress of my situation. And given how common it is to have trouble getting pregnant, I thought some of you might appreciate me sharing what I have learned? So here are the top 4 strategies I use to not let the stress of infertility consume you:
1. Practice Self Compassion
Think about how your compassion for other people generally plays out: First, you notice they are suffering, and then your warm heart gives you the desire to help them. Most of us find it a breeze to be compassionate toward others, but if you’re anything like me, treating OURSELVES as well as we treat our friends and family takes some serious effort and self-awareness. Sometimes you may not even be aware of how harsh and uncompassionate you can be towards your own infertility!
Learning how to be self-compassionate is one of the best things we can do for ourselves in general, and it’s even more important if we are struggling with infertility.
If you want to learn more about what self-compassion is and how to actually practice it, I strongly recommend you check out the work of Dr Kristin Neff, who is one of the best communicators I have come across on the topic of self-compassion. She even offers free audio downloads for self-compassion guided meditations and exercises, which are fantastic.
2. Strengthen your relaxation response
As I have written about previously, the relaxation response is a physiological phenomenon that is one of the best antidotes to stress.
It is well known, that stress can have a dramatic effect on your health, and so it should come as no surprise that the relaxation response is now being scientifically shown to promote better health both mentally and physically in individuals that practice it!
Pioneers of mind body programs for IVF patients, are even observing improvements in IVF success rates for couples participating in regular relaxation activities (Domar and Rooney et a. 2011)!
Strengthening our relaxation response is simple: we need to do things that help us really relax. Mindfulness meditation practice is possibly the most well proven method for training our relaxation response and something I do daily, but at a practical level, anything we can do that helps us lower our heart rate, and to quieten our often noisy minds will help reverse the negative effects of stress.
Once you get better at being self-compassionate, maybe you can make a habit out of lighting some candles, drawing yourself a bath, and listening to some soothing music as part of your regular routine?
3. Work it out
I was definitely having trouble with stress over the past week, and even on the weekend, when I was consciously trying to relax I couldn’t shake the sense of dread that hung over me. I went for a lovely relaxing walk in the morning, enjoyed a cup of chai at a café, and I meditated for 40 minutes, but I still didn’t feel better. And then I remembered that sometimes what we really need to shake off stress is a good work out. I jumped on an elliptical machine and after just 20 minutes of interval training, I felt better than I have in weeks! There’s something almost magical about short, intense exercise that can radically improve our emotional state.
Physical activity is a 100% natural, totally free therapy that has consistently been proven by scientific study after scientific study to improve our mood without any adverse side effects, better than any mental health medication available on the market. There’s nothing like a big shot of dopamine to the brain to make you feel awesome about life when only minutes before you may have been down in the dumps or totally stressed out. But we don’t need science to tell us this, give it a go! I can just about guarantee you’ll feel great afterwards!
4. Accept what you can’t change
There are two pathways we can walk in parallel for managing the stress of infertility: We can do things that improve our emotional wellbeing, like the 3 great ways I’ve just mentioned above; and we can learn to accept the things we can’t change. This isn’t about giving up or feeling hopeless.
It’s a powerful choice we can make to limit the suffering we experience from the unavoidable pain of infertility. The hard reality of the situation for people like us, is that we have very limited control over this unpleasant situation, and for times like this, radical acceptance is the best option left open to us. I have written an entire blog post on radical acceptence recently that you can check out here.
Wishing you all the best with your own fertility journey,
Kym Campbell is a Health Coach and PCOS expert with a strong passion for using evidence-based lifestyle interventions to manage this disorder. Kym combines rigorous scientific analysis with the advice from leading clinicians to disseminate the most helpful PCOS patient-centric information you can find online. You can read more about Kym and her team here.