Coping With Infertility: How to Reduce Stress

The path to conceiving for many couples is stressful; just ask the one out of eight couples who are struggling to become pregnant. While stress does not cause infertility, we do know that infertility can cause stress. In fact, women and couples experiencing infertility may have the same levels of anxiety and depression as do women with cancer or heart disease.



The overflowing stress of infertility, often leading to depression, can affect women and couples literally in all parts of their lives. The stress of negative test results, seemingly endless doctor appointments, feeling alone and isolated from family and friends, and being on guard for social media pregnancy announcements is enough to feel like you can’t get a break anywhere.

This on-going stress interferes with staying present and leads to being consumed with worry about the future.

So what can you do to help yourself?

First, know that you are not alone--in fact the body’s fight or flight response occurs as one feels threatened or frightened. The body releases an overflow of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, causing an increase in blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rates. These symptoms can linger and impinge on every day activities such as concentration and work. It can also take a toll on a couple’s relationship, leaving you feeling drained and not sure how to help each other feel better.

Second, the good news is eliciting the relaxation response can help return the body and mind to a less anxious state. Through relaxation techniques and mindfulness practices the body learns to feel a sense of calm which can last throughout the day and have long term benefits.

Here are some top techniques to reduce the heightened stress response:

1. Progressive muscle relaxation- progressively tighten and then relax your muscles, either from head to toe or vice versa.
2. Deep breathing- breathing slowly from your belly, making a deep sigh.
3. Meditation-such as repeating a word or phrase as you breathe. Now is a good time to find a few positive, meaningful words and phrases to help you center you throughout this journey.

The research on mind body support programs has shown that mind body groups for infertility are a helpful component to fertility treatment and success. Being able to attend a mind body group where women and couples can meet, join with others in the same boat and learn coping skills helps decrease the sense of isolation, anxiety and depression. Participants are able to feel healthier and able to cope which fosters hope and strength to strive towards reaching the dream of parenthood.

- Pam Kelberg, LCSW is a couple’s therapist who specializes in infertility. She facilitates the Fertility Wellness Mind/Body Support Program at Penn Fertility Care and leads stress reduction support groups. Pam provides individual and couples counseling to help women, men and couples cope with infertility.

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