Stress can be a significant part of the fertility journey. From the financial burden associated with treatment to the physical demands and the emotional rollercoaster, it’s no wonder that the stress of infertility is comparable to the stress of other serious medical conditions, like cancer.
That doesn’t mean you just have to suffer from the emotional and physical tension that comes with the process. Developing coping skills to manage fertility-related stress and subsequent treatment can improve every part of the process.
Dr. Alice Domar, Chief Compassion Officer at Inception Fertility, is a health psychologist who has spent her career understanding the impact of stress on fertility and has developed research-based strategies to help patients navigate negative emotions during one of their most challenging experiences.
According to Dr. Domar, there are a few helpful coping mechanisms every fertility patient can use to improve their fertility experience:
- Before you start any treatment, make a list of all the things you know help you feel better when you are stressed, such as taking a walk, talking to a close family member or friend, listening to your favorite music, going to the movies, going out for ice cream, binging on a delicious tv show, etc. It is far easier to think of these things when you feel okay, so do it now and then use the list if you feel anxious.
- Start practicing relaxation techniques as soon as possible so that you feel comfortable by the time you begin treatment. It can be meditation, hatha yoga, mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation, etc. It is much easier to have a guided relaxation, at least at the beginning, so consider trying one of the relaxation apps, such as Calm, and try different methods until you find one(s) that work best for you.
- If you have a partner, this is an excellent time to determine how to communicate during more challenging times. An effective approach is to practice paired listening – you talk for 5-10 minutes while your partner listens, then your partner talks for 5-10 minutes while you listen, and then you talk together. Ensure there are no distractions, like televisions or phones, when you have these discussions.
- Go into all treatment cycles with a “Plan B.” You don’t necessarily have to stick with it, but it can be comforting to know that if a cycle isn’t successful, you know what the next steps will be, such as meeting with your physician, considering other forms of treatment, changing your lifestyle habits, etc.
- Think carefully about who you want to tell or not tell about any upcoming treatment. If you have friends or family members who are genuinely supportive and can respect your privacy, you might want to inform them that you might need extra TLC during that time. If you have anyone in your life who tends to be critical or judgmental, no law says you need to tell them your plans. And remember that if you tell 30 people you are doing a treatment cycle, you might end up with dozens of texts, emails, and phone calls daily.
While nothing can fully eliminate stress from the fertility journey, establishing strong coping mechanisms can improve your physical, emotional, and mental well-being and put you more in control of the process.