Although there is no significant or reliable evidence that demonstrates stress causes infertility we do know that infertility can cause stress, says Liz O’Donnell, a professional clinical counsellor and one of Bourn Hall’s early patients. Liz came to talk to our Fertility Support Group in May and this post is based on her presentation and first in our series “Coping with Christmas”.
Stress comes when our thoughts and feelings are out of synch with the actions we are taking. This can be particularly true over the festive season when there is considerable pressure to appear outwardly happy despite inner turmoil.
Just like every other system in the body, our emotional regulating system has a desired ‘set point’ for optimal functioning. We have developed various coping techniques and compensation mechanisms to keep our sense of wellbeing at this point – which can be thought of as an emotional blood pressure.
But over time any stressed system can break down in response to extreme overload.
The longer the stress and the heavier the burden the greater the degree of impact, so that even individuals who appear to be functioning can be at the low end of their capacity to cope.
Compensatory mechanisms designed to offset loss do not heal injury. To heal requires identifying and eradicating the source of the wound and developing therapeutically effective approaches to restoring health.
Although while actively trying for a baby the hurt is still there, there are ways to improve your resilience to stress and increase your emotional wellbeing.
And, because all of our body systems are interconnected and interdependent, mental, emotional and physical/physiological care provides benefits on many levels.
There is increasingly more evidence to support holistic approaches to healing physical, mental, and emotional wounding. These include: mindfulness meditation, restorative yoga, creative therapies (including music, art, writing), and connection to nature.
Being able to experience oneself across the brain-body interface (i.e. as thinkers and feelers) is critical to living in the truth of your story and your circumstances.
Achieving a steady emotional blood pressure is not about changing the script to fit and sound like what you want, it is about respecting the reality of what has happened so that you can take action that restores your ability to live your best in that reality.
Here are some ways to balance your emotional blood pressure:
Be positive – you are doing this for the possibility that it can work, not for the chance that it won’t.
Be pragmatic – you are doing the best you can with what you know: “I know what I want, and I will find a way to live with what happens.”
Give yourself freedom – Preparing yourself for failure does not protect you from disappointment. You will be disappointed if you don’t become pregnant – give yourself the freedom to anticipate the possibility of success while understanding better than anyone you might have to try again.
Understand your coping style (and your partner’s) – respect that it will likely need tweaks in order to manage infertility-related stress and distress.
Develop a shared script – honour and respect that script.
Seek out support – physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual.
Listen rather than suggest – you cannot fix this problem with ‘doing’. You can improve the struggle by becoming informed, experiencing it together, asking for what you need, and providing sanctuary in your relationship.
Expand your thinking – it is possible to feel better about not being pregnant right now. Thinking “I will not be happy until I am pregnant” is the same mind trap as “I will not be happy until I am a size 10.” The only thing guaranteed is that you will not be happy.
Become familiar with how your body experiences stress (gut, blood pressure, sweating, heart rate) – commit to at least three strategies to mitigate that response. There is lots of evidence that suggests that when we feel better we are doing better even if there is not a test that shows that directly in our reproductive system.
For more information about Fertility Support at Bourn Hall.