May is Mental Health Awareness Month and in its honor Progyny hosted a webinar focused on managing emotional exhaustion. In a family building journey, sometimes we focus too much on the physical and neglect our emotional and mental wellbeing. This webinar focused on how to recognize emotional exhaustion and the impact it can have on your day-to-day activities and surrounding relationships, with expert guidance on how to alleviate and improve your mental health.
- Dr. Georgia Witkin, Head of Member Services Development at Progyny, Assistant Professor of OB-GYN and Reproductive Sciences and Assistant Clinical Professor at Mount Sinai
- Cassandra Pratt, SVP of People at Progyny
- Justin Smith, VP of Account Management at Progyny
Recognizing Emotional Exhaustion
We all have stress, sometimes more and sometimes less. Over recent years, stress has been high as we’ve been navigating a global pandemic, political turmoil, job loss, burnout, and more. When the stresses overlap you begin to lose your sense of control and your emergency response system triggers an increase in adrenaline, your body’s own stimulant. Adrenaline is putting your brain and body on alert so you’ll be ready for the next unexpected crisis, but it also means your natural mood-stabilizing hormone serotonin is getting used up or running low. This means if an added unpredictable crisis pops up, like infertility, you’re already running on almost empty—just when you need a full tank of energy, clear thinking, and emotional strength.
Navigating a family building journey can come with many stresses and emotional ups and downs as you balance the excitement and optimism around starting a family with the potential disappointment of a negative outcome. While going through treatment, patients and couples will often feel a loss of control and stress as they go through the physical stresses of treatment paired with the anxiety and emotions around making decisions, avoiding treatment delays and loss of time, getting finances in order, and finding the right doctors. Additionally, patients and their partners often wonder what they did wrong and search for answers as they try to regain control.
Throughout the journey it’s important to remember that infertility is not your fault, and that regular stress will not have an impact on your results. It’s important to take note of changes in your mental and emotional state and recognize when you might be battling emotional exhaustion. Below we’ve outlined the checklist of signs that you may be emotionally exhausted.
- You find you are smiling less frequently
- Your sleep is being affected. This could include trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or only wanting to sleep
- Socializing becomes difficult. You may be distracted about the past or future and find it hard to focus on current connections
- You startle easily because of increased adrenaline
- You are feeling more irritable
- Anxiety levels are much higher and things that used to feel normal are hard to tolerate
- You cry more easily, whether happy or sad, and have heightened emotions
If just one of the above applies to you, you are running on a lot of adrenaline and are dealing with emotional exhaustion. It’s important to recognize that you are not alone and there are steps you can take to alleviate the stress and find support.
Impact on Day-to-Day Activities
The family building journey can be all consuming and make it challenging to keep up with daily life, work, and relationships while also finding time for yourself. When you are dealing with emotional exhaustion, the fallout is usually one of the three D’s
- Feeling disorganized – even if you are typically organized you may be feeling distracted
- Decision making difficulties – even small decisions like what you want for lunch can be challenging or overwhelming
- Depression – you may find that all you want to do is eat and/or sleep
When dealing with stress and emotional exhaustion you may find yourself getting frustrated that you can no longer keep up with your regular pace when it comes to meeting the demands of your job and daily responsibilities. You may find that you’re struggling to remember things, make simple decisions, and focus, which may bring you down or make you feel isolated.
You may also experience heightened irritability and be bothered by small things or find it hard to care about things that now feel less important. It can be a challenge to balance voicing your frustrations as they come versus holding them in until they burst out through your emotions. Dealing with these heightened emotions can be overwhelming and difficult to manage.
Many may think the solution is to step away from work or other daily responsibilities, but it’s also said that structure is important and can provide positive distractions that can help you bounce back and keep up with your daily routine.
The Impact on Relationships
The stress of treatments, affording treatments, balancing work, and all the rest can also affect relationships. Whether it be with family members who are trying to be supportive, friends who may not be able to relate, or partners who just aren’t sure what to do, dealing with infertility alone might seem like the best decision. However, this can greatly strain relationships in any capacity. Being honest with yourself and your close relationships can help alleviate the stress you might feel otherwise.
Building a family and navigating treatment is a very personal journey and everyone may have different comfort levels with what they are willing to share. The journey can also be isolating and stressful so it’s best when you can identify someone to share with. Being able to talk about it, share how you’re feeling, and what you need can be highly beneficial in making you feel supported and less alone during your journey. It’s important to set boundaries and to communicate on your own terms.
Men typically don’t share their feelings and experiences in the same way and may feel more shame when facing infertility. There’s a feeling of needing to be strong for your partner who may be dealing with more of the physical stressors while still taking care of your own emotional needs. Although it’s important to lean on each other it can be helpful to communicate with others; whether a professional counselor or close friends or family, sharing with outside parties can help you navigate the ups and downs of the journey and feel supported.
There are things that you can do to work on your emotional and mental health throughout this process. Dr. Georgia Witkin has identified actionable items that you can do to help prevent emotional burnout. These include:
- Underwhelm yourself
We are often operating at a time deficit with not enough time to do everything we feel we need to do. It’s important to practice saying no without excuses, guilt, or justification, and to prioritize yourself.
- Re-train your mind to not worry
We are wired for worrying and always anticipating what’s going to happen. It’s important to reframe your mindset and retrain your brain. Strategies include finding a mantra to say to yourself, giving yourself permission to put pleasure back into your life, and finding ways to put yourself into the present.
- Don’t blame yourself
Healing takes time, but humans are built for healing. Find an outlet and someone to share with and find time for yourself to take back control.
It’s a good reminder for people to reach out for support from friends, family, and support groups, whatever works for you. Just because you’re a strong and independent person doesn’t mean that you need to do everything by yourself.
- Any advice on dealing with overwhelming family members? An in-law who adds to emotional stress, rather than help?
- Don’t tell people until you’re ready and feel you can keep control. Sometimes when you share upfront people may ask questions that may be well intentioned but can be stressful and upsetting. Share with the people you want to talk through things with and it’s ok not to tell people. It’s also ok to respond and let them know you’re in overload and are not looking for any input or advice.
- It feels like the male partner has the hard part where it doesn’t really fall on them, so they don’t want to add stress to their partner, but sometimes they need a break too but feel guilty. How do you handle that?
- Transparent communication is key. Try to stay in tune with your partner and ask them how they are feeling and what you can do to help. Be there and let them know you are there when they need you. If you need a break have that open conversation with your partner and let them know your needs while recognizing where they are at.
We hope you found this information helpful and informative. Progyny is always here to support you on your family building journey. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact your dedicated Patient Care Advocate. Progyny is committed to helping you on your family building journey and always here to support you.