STRESS AND INFERTILITY
A positive approach for managing stress
In its own way, Infertility itself can create stress for many couples. There is a potential danger for relationships to become fertility focused, resulting in raised levels of stress within a relationship. This may lead to problems which need to be identified and addressed, along with general life-style stressors.
Acute or Chronic stress?
Stress can be classified into 2 categories; acute (short term), or chronic (long term). In either case, it may be physical or emotional. Acute stress may result from a change of job, bereavement, sickness or even a holiday! Chronic stress often results from the work place, a relationship, general worry or anxiety.
Delayed ovulation and stress
Through the FertilityCare™ Programme, couples learn to chart the menstrual cycle, making daily observation about the mucus discharge and days of bleeding. Stress can be seen as the cause of a variety of irregularities in the charting system. A classic example of the effects of stress is the ‘Double Peak’. Stress can also dry up cervical mucus which is so critical for conception to occur.
In normal cycles, women observe a build-up of mucus, culminating in a peak day around the time of ovulation. Following the peak day, there is a dramatic change in mucus production. In cycles where stress is experienced, a build up to a peak occurs, followed by a dramatic change, but later in the cycle, a second build up occurs, after the stress is relieved. Ovulation will occur with the second peak. This in fact is a delayed ovulation, and is a protective mechanism at work. The woman will notice that her cycle is longer than usual. Longer cycles are also noted where there is a prolonged peak build-up, or where the peak build-up is much later than usual. In these cycles, ovulation has been delayed, again, often because of stress. Stress is an important aspect that we assess and assist with.
Decreased or increased mucus?
For some women, despite the menstrual cycle being its usual length, there is an obvious increase in the amount of mucus produced, e.g. they might normally have a 5-day mucus cycle, but when experiencing stress, the mucus cycle may last for 9 days. For others, however, there may be none, or very little mucus produced during times of stress. This severely limits the level of fertility in that cycle.
The actual causes of these changes are not clear. Stress has multiple hormonal and physical effects, and the exact relationship with the reproductive system is not yet fully understood. One possible theory is the likelihood that Beta-Endorphins, chemicals released by the body in times of stress, block the normal production of hormones by the pituitary gland. This blocking may be sufficient to cause ovarian dysfunction, which in turn may lead to inadequate hormone production leading to further dysfunction, including mucus production.
We live in a stressful society, and individuals need to learn to identify when they are stressed, and to develop effective coping strategies to reduce the effects of stress. This may involve;
Lifestyle changes- ensuring adequate sleep, limiting smoking/alcohol, eating regular nutritious meals, drinking plenty of fluids
Life changes- changing jobs, reducing work hours, not over-committing oneself.
Techniques to improve rest and relaxation include regular exercise, meditation, spending time with family/friends, and avoiding screen time prior to bed.
The FertilityCare™ approach
The diagnosis of ‘unexplained infertility’ can create stress simply on its own. Not knowing what could be underpinning a couple’s inability to conceive leaves many feeling inadequate, frustrated and ignorant.
FertilityCare™ provides the opportunity, to work together as a couple, to enhance one’s loving relationship and thus reduce stress levels. You are not simply an ‘infertile couple’, you are a couple experiencing infertility.
Your individual needs are important and couples need to learn to be respectful of each other. It is also helpful for couples to focus on the needs of the other.
Spiritual – Every person has values and beliefs sacred to them. Verbally communicating to your partner that ‘I love you and I love everything about you’ is a profoundly spiritual (as well as emotional and psychological) experience. As this is reiterated in daily life, it assists the development of a trust which cannot be shaken.
Physical – There is more to the physical aspect of a relationship than the act of intercourse. Physical ways of expressing love such as hugging, kissing, touching, embracing and holding hands or just being held can all be powerful experiences. Going for walks and planning days ahead are all bridge building and communication stimulating.
Intellectual – Through the Programme, couples learn to understand and respect their bodies in a new and exciting way, coming to more fully regard the act of intercourse and procreation as deeply special. It offers the opportunity to talk about problems each is encountering with their fertility.
Creative/Communicative – Doing special things for each other, or together can be a natural way to increase communication between couples and thus reduce stress levels. Special meals together, joint projects and special outings are all examples. A comfortable silence can also lead to a deeper enjoyment of each other’s company and promote time for relaxation.
Emotional – Within relationships, frustration, anger or grief are sometimes experienced, and when infertility exists, such emotions may be even more heightened. Couples need to learn to share all their feelings in an open and trusting way. This involves talking and listening, loving and giving, and at times, exercising a sense of humour!
Here are some helpful suggestions to effectively manage stress;