Today, many of us are living lifestyles where our day is packed full to the rafters. It’s hustle and bustle from the time we wake, till we hit the pillow. Add an IVF cycle into the mix and it adds another full time job to the list of your priorities. While some are able to cope with the high demands of life and IVF, others can be left feeling tired, overwhelmed and completely “stressed out”.
During an IVF cycle, people experience stress at different levels and it’s no wonder. Recent research has shown that for many women infertility can create levels of anxiety and depression equivalent to women with cancer, HIV status or heart diseases.
While stress in the short term is not a bad thing, overtime chronic stress puts our health, wellbeing and fertility at risk. High levels of stress have been shown to
- alter the function of the hypothalamus gland, which controls ovulation;
- contribute to irregular menstrual periods;
- produce high levels of cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone;
- decrease reproductive hormones like estrogen and progesterone;
- divert blood flow from the ovaries and uterine lining, thereby affecting egg quality and successful implantation.
How do we learn to reduce stress during an IVF cycle?
The power of our mind and emotions can impact our health and wellbeing during an IVF cycle. Thoughts are seeds we plant in the soil of our bodies. In ancient Chinese medicine there is a phrase “yi yi yin chi”, and its translation is ‘energy follows intention’. As our mind influences every cell in our body, we are responsible to notice our thoughts and feelings and the impact they have on overall health. Start by getting to know your thoughts. Observing our thoughts is crucial in our ability to change them. And changing the way we think about our fertility can have a profound impact on our overall happiness. It stands to reason, then, that our overall attitude can play an important role in our fertility. Daily affirmations are a great way to create a positive mindset.
Begin to notice how your body feels as you move through each day. It’s easy to judge our bodies for not supporting us, or to only notice what’s ‘not working’. And it’s common to feel let down by our bodies when facing our fertility challenges. I encourage you to shift your awareness to what is working in your body and how your body is responding. Our bodies are doing so many complicated, incredible things each day we almost forget.
Focus on the positive aspects:
- How is your body supporting you?
- What is your body telling you?
- What feels good?
- What can you do live a healthier life?
- How are my thoughts today?
- What am I grateful for today?
The more connected we are, the more we will notice our bodies working positively for us. If you have been doing repeated cycles this can help restore faith back into your mind and body.
The breath and visualization is another excellent way to combat stress during the IVF process. Different types of breathing patterns have distinct physiological and psychological effects. When we connect to conscious breath, it triggers the physiological response of rest and digest. It takes our body out of its anxiety, stressed state and allows it to enter into a deep state of relaxation. When you connect into conscious breath you begin to notice that everything in the body begins to slow down; heart rate, our mind, our breathing becomes deeper and consciously we begin to connect into our body. This deep connection allows us to focus on the positive aspects of our mind and body.
Specific breathing exercises become particularly important during the two week wait period. Nadi Shadhona and Deep Belly Breathing are just two exercises that can shift the body into a deep relaxed. Close your eyes and breath deeply and visualize a healthy women’s palace.
Do your Research
It is so important to understand the IVF process and what is involved. Do your research and gather as much information as possible. The more you know and understand about the process, the less stress you will feel. IVF is an anxiety-producing experience, and one of the best antidotes for anxiety is information and knowledge. Talk to people you know who have gone through the experience. Be equipped with questions for your Doctor. Understand your treatment program. Make sure your IVF clinic has done all your specific blood work. Look for articles and other reading materials about IVF and take advantage of resources from your IVF center.
Meditation & Mindfulness
Mind-body techniques are extremely valuable as it teaches us to get out of our heads and connect in with our body. This is an essential tool when it comes to our fertility and IVF cycles. Mind-Body treatment of infertility patients has been shown to increase pregnancy rates as well as reducing psychological distress.
Circle & Bloom offer a mind-body series for natural fertility and IVF treatments. There is a daily meditation for each day of your cycle. The program offers a daily meditation for each day of the menstrual cycle or each stage of the IVF treatment and works by using deep relaxation, therapeutic visualizations and emotional awareness exercises. Women can listen to the audio programs on their iPhone, iPod or computer and takes just 15 minutes a day.
Headspace is another great meditation app. Andy breaks meditation down and keeps it simple. There is a free download on Itunes. Its 10 minutes of meditation for 10 nights. It’s a great introduction to meditation and easy to follow.
Yoga is a powerful life tool and is another must try for those who are trying to conceive. The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ which means to unite. It is about the connection of mind, body, breath and movement. Fertility Yoga is a combination of asana (postures) and breathing techniques that help you get into a state of relaxation and mediation. Yoga asana increases strength, improves flexibility and helps balance our hormones. Modern research has proven yoga to reduce the stress hormone- cortisol and in yoga physiology it is believed that specific yoga postures increase blood flow and life force ‘prana’ or ‘qi’ to the reproductive organs.
Aim for a healthy sleep cycle for at least a month prior to commencing your IVF cycle. In Chinese Medicine the most restful sleep is before 12pm. Aim for a minimum of at least 8 hours sleep. Sleep in complete darkness to improve natural melatonin production. Melatonin is required for healthy follicle development. Do not self prescribe any melatonin supplements unless prescribed by your Doctor. Try to focus on improving your levels of melatonin, naturally.
You and Your Partner
IVF is stressful so make sure you take time out to spend with your partner doing the things you both enjoy. Both of you will react differently to the pressures. Try and find time each evening to talk about what has happened and how you are feeling, so everything is out in the open. Just remember you need to be able to support each other through this journey together.
Schedule time for you
Be sure to nurture yourself physically and emotionally. By scheduling in a massage or a catch up with a girlfriend will keep you accountable for your wellbeing and is something you can look forward too. We can all get caught up in our IVF full time appointments. Be sure you schedule time for self, particularly during the two week wait period.
It is a well-known fact that a healthy body harbors a healthy mind, so take time to prepare you physically, mentally and emotionally.