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Managing Infertility Stress

Women undergoing infertility treatment report the same level of stress, anxiety, and depression as women who have cancer, HIV, or heart disease. Chronic stress can lead to depression and lower resistance to disease. Acute stressors cause increased heart rate, sweating, and rapid breathing — the “fight or flight” response. Internal stressors are harder to control than external ones. For example you can’t “make” a cycle work, but you can change doctors or clinics if you are unhappy with the medical care you are receiving. Research has shown that chronic stress causes the hormone cortisol to rise and blood flow to the uterus may be decreased, which could impact implantation of a fertilized embryo.

Why Is Infertility Stressful?

  • Infertility is a loss of control of your body and of your life plan
  • Infertility lowers self esteem
  • Infertility can feel like a roller coaster ride; the ongoing effects can cause stress and exhaustion
  • Infertility tests and treatments are expensive and often not covered by insurance. In vitro fertilization (IVF) can cost up to $15,000 a cycle
  • Tests are often uncomfortable
  • Treatments are not always successful. IVF has approximately a 30 percent live birth rate per cycle
  • Hormone treatments can cause mood swings
  • Undergoing infertility treatment feels like a full-time job. It often involves scheduling tests, treatments, and appointments around other obligations
  • While undergoing infertility treatment, the rest of your life and your goals may be put on hold, sometimes for months or years

Ways to Reduce Stress

  • Recognize that infertility is a life crisis, and get support from others. One study showed that women with primary infertility who joined a 10-week support group or a mind-body group had a pregnancy rate of 54 percent to 55 percent versus the 20 percent pregnancy rate for women who did not join either group
  • Reduce other stressors in your life while undergoing infertility treatment. Learn to say “no” if you are overwhelmed.
  • Consider practicing yoga, meditating, or having acupuncture or massage
  • Make a list of all the things you have put on hold while you’ve been waiting to have a baby. Select a few that you will start working on now.
  • If you feel depressed, consider seeing a therapist. One study reported that 10 percent of women undergoing infertility treatment had a major depressive episode and 66 percent admitted to having feelings of depression as they navigated the infertility experience.
  • Take control where you can. Become an informed consumer. Understand your medical situation and learn how to communicate well with your medical team.