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April is Stress Awareness Month

April 5, 2013

Undoubtedly, the infertility journey is physically and emotionally stressful. Receiving the diagnosis of infertility and trying to conceive after failed cycles makes us feel as though our bodies have failed us, while yearning for a family is exhausts our emotions. Although this is a time we should take the best care of ourselves to optimize our health and fertility, stress often prevails.

There are several ways for a fertility patient to reign in stress and anxiety by practicing relaxation techniques like guided imagery, focused breathing, exercise, or progressive muscle relaxation. However, simple activities like taking a walk or seeing a movie can also help alleviate stress. William Petok, Ph.D., a psychologist specializing in infertility in Baltimore, MD, says fertility patients use a variety of stress relieving methods that best work for them. “We just completed the Infertility Family Research Registry, a database of infertility patients who agree to be in studies and are writing up the study now to be submitted as an abstract to ASRM. We found folks use lots of exercise, massage, healthy eating, acupuncture, talking with family and friends, social networking, talking to spouses, joining support groups, and doing relaxing activities to take their mind off of treatment,” he states. Fertility patients should have a handful of go-to activities that help them manage infertility stress. One activity may not be universally useful for every fertility patient and one fertility patient may rely on several different stress relieving activities depending on his or her mood. Dr. Petok notes that most of the study participants used between three and six relaxation techniques. Some used as many as ten techniques.

Despite the fact that stress does not cause infertility, there is existing data that suggests stress can impact overall health. “[Stress] doesn’t make you infertile and reducing stress doesn’t make you fertile, but we know that people under stress are more susceptible to medical problems and we know infertility is a medical problem,” states Petok. In addition to the impact stress has on your physical health, it can also affect mental health and interpersonal relationships. “There are two types of stress. Eustress is good stress like winning the lottery or getting a new job. Distress is bad stress. Being able to manage stress means you can manage one aspect of your life. Fertility patients report feeling out of control and most of us don’t like feeling out of control,” Petok says. Given that many aspects of infertility and fertility treatment are beyond the patient’s control, finding ways to manage your stress can help you regain control. Dr. Petok advises that stress can rub off on others. Especially if you are living with a partner who is emotionally invested in your fertility treatment, they may experience the ramifications of your stress as well.

For additional support and stress management, couples might seek out the help of a support group or therapist who specializes in fertility issues. Therapy, in particular, teaches patients techniques for reducing stress while support groups help the patient to relate to others in a similar situation. Both of these provide an outlet for emotions in a neutral space and helps fertility patients to work through the challenges of infertility.


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