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Mar 4, 2024

Coping with stress and fertility

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Infertility isn’t just a physical challenge, it’s an emotional one. We’re here with our consultant clinical psychologist, Marie Prince, for an honest conversation about why this time can be so tough, and advice on how to get through it.


Whether you’re struggling to get pregnant, newly diagnosed with infertility, or having treatment, you may be feeling the emotional impact.


Infertility comes with so many changes to adjust to. Appointments, health checks, and perhaps fertility medicines too. It can feel like your body, health, and lifestyle are all under the microscope.


Fertility treatment itself can have side effects and can have a knock-on effect on your work and finances too.


Parts of life that were once natural or enjoyable, like sex, can become very planned and even feel tense. The future you once daydreamed about may now have a question mark over it, like a dark cloud.

“Waiting for your time to be pregnant, or become a parent, can be incredibly hard,” Marie says.

In a poll from The Ribbon Box, 2 in 3 people agreed that waiting, and the general uncertainty, is the hardest part.


All of these stresses take their toll and may leave you feeling not quite yourself.

“Stress happens when we feel the demands placed upon us outstrip the resources we have to cope,” explains Marie

You might be feeling:


  • Frustrated or impatient

  • Worried or anxious

  • Physical symptoms of stress like pain or tension

  • Sad, tearful, or depressed

  • Worn out

  • Overwhelmed


If you can relate to these, then it’s time to look at how infertility can impact your emotions and stress, and how we can help you get through this.

The link between stress and infertility

Before sharing our advice, we want to dispel a hurtful myth.


Stress doesn’t cause infertility. The only time stress is to blame is if it directly prevents sex when you’re trying to conceive naturally.


Many couples worry that a stressful career, a mental health condition, or other tensions in their life are why they’re struggling to get pregnant - or that stress could affect their treatment.


It’s important to recognize that infertility is a medical condition – it’s not your fault, not your partner's fault, and hasn’t been caused by stress.


Even just acknowledging this can be enough to relieve built-up feelings like guilt, shame, or blame, which add so much to the emotional burden of going through infertility.


However, although stress doesn’t cause infertility, infertility can cause stress.

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“You have permission to be stressed out – you are going through a lot!

Try not to criticise yourself; this is just another stress you do not need,” says Marie.

Advice for coping with stress during infertility

Building support around you

Many people going through infertility say they feel like they’re the only ones. While their friends might be happily starting families, it seems like nobody else in their lives can understand what they’re going through.


Often, people feel a sense of shame about requiring fertility treatment. This can stifle them from talking about their experiences – we tell ourselves that other people will judge us, or feel sorry for us.


But loneliness and isolation only increase stress. “Take some time to think about what you need and who you can reach out to,” Marie encourages.




Our advice

  • Talk to your friends, family, and fertility team about how you’re feeling

  • Try to find ‘your people’, whether that’s Facebook groups, forums, or even watching infertility influencers on social media

  • Look for support groups at The Fertility Network UK

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“If people can’t give you the support you need, consider where else you can access your tribe – those people that can help you with this part of your life.

Alongside this, a therapist can help you explore why you are feeling isolated and help you think about how to change this,” says Marie.

Dealing with anxiety and depression

Stress can bring on anxiety and depression, and these can make stress worse too – creating a vicious cycle that’s hard to get out of.


As many as 9 in 10 people going through infertility experience mental health symptoms after their diagnosis, like worry, low mood, and exhaustion.


“You’re not finding your fertility journey difficult because you’re doing something wrong, you’re finding it difficult because it is really difficult,” says Marie.


“Manage your expectations – don’t expect yourself to be happy and positive all of the time. You are allowed to struggle, you are allowed to be vulnerable and you are allowed to look after yourself.”


A dip in your mental health is an understandable reaction to infertility, but it’s not something you have to put up with or go through alone.




Our advice

  • Learn more about mental health at mind.org.uk

  • Speak to your GP or a mental health professional

  • Consider therapy, or medication as a next step


Don’t forget, if you’re having fertility treatment with us at TFP Fertility, we have specialist fertility counsellors who are there if you need to talk.


“It can be helpful to think about what you’re looking for before you start therapy – is it a supportive, reflective conversation or do you have a specific goal in mind or a particular therapy you want to try such as EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing), or mindfulness-based work?” says Marie.

Healing your relationships

Infertility can put a strain on your relationships, but it’s also a chance to come out of hardship with stronger connections to your loved ones.


It helps to reflect on how infertility might be creating tension with people around you, so that you can take steps to heal those rifts.


For example, if you’re going through infertility with a partner, there might be feelings of guilt, or blame. You might have different views on fertility treatment, or the best next steps to take.


Well-meaning friends and family might not understand what you’re going through, and give unhelpful advice or say insensitive things.




Our advice

  • Reach out to your safe people; the friends and family who ‘get it’ and can be a source of support

  • Set boundaries with people who are upsetting you or adding to stress

  • Talk to your partner about how you’re feeling and your expectations for the future

  • Consider couples therapy – it can help you come through infertility stronger together

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“Often, we expect people to know what we need – especially those closest to us – and we feel disappointed if they don’t deliver,” explains Marie.

“But it’s important that we take responsibility for telling people what we want and need.”

Processing grief and loss

Finding out that you have infertility may mean letting go of a certain dream, goal, or self-image that you once had.


Although this can be the start of a new journey too, it’s important to make space for the feelings of loss around how you once imagined things would be.


This is especially true if you’ve experienced the loss of pregnancy.


“Not many people grow up expecting to struggle to have a family. And, more societally, fertility problems go against widely-held, old-fashioned expectations about what our body is supposedly for,” explains Marie.


“So the need for fertility treatment can feel like a loss or failure from the beginning. It can lead us to question the beliefs and expectations we hold about ourselves.”

“We don’t all experience the fertility journey as being characterised by grief or trauma.

But if you do, that is ok – ask for support.”




Our advice

  • Consider seeing a therapist or a grief counsellor

  • Talk to those around you, and don’t bottle up your feelings

  • Give yourself time before starting new cycles of fertility treatment

  • Visit Tommy’s for advice and support around baby loss

Relieving day-to-day stress

While self-care and holistic therapy aren’t a replacement for professional psychological support, they can ease everyday stress.


Whether your stress shows up as physical or emotional tension, making time to relax, recover, and soothe your body can be the difference that makes each day a little more bearable.


Pay attention to your body, it will tell you when you need to slow down and look after yourself.


Many therapists can help you develop your own practice for managing acute stress and uncertainty, for example during key treatment milestones.




Our advice

We find that our patients benefit from gentle physical therapies, including:

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“It helps to have a pool of resources you know you can pull on when you need to, so spend some time thinking about what helps you cope in times of stress,” Marie explains.


“Science tells us that breathwork reduces stress, meditation improves our focus and attention and NSDR can boost our energy levels.


Many practices only take 10 minutes a day, so it’s not about taking hours out of your schedule – it’s building in the tools that really help!”




Side effects of fertility medicine

If you’re having fertility treatment like IVF, the side effects of fertility medicine can cause physical and emotional symptoms.


You might notice:


  • Sleeping problems

  • Headaches

  • Breast tenderness

  • Mood swings

  • Feeling irritable




Our advice

If you’re struggling with the side effects of fertility medicine, don’t suffer in silence. This isn’t a ‘no pain, no gain’ situation.


Speak to your fertility specialist as soon as possible. Your dose can be tailored to your sensitivity, and you may be able to take other medicines to help ease side effects.


If you’re having repeated cycles of fertility treatment, let your team know how it’s impacting your stress and emotions. They can consider this as part of your treatment plan.




Take breaks from treatment

 If it’s all getting too much, it might be time to pause your fertility treatment. We understand this can be anxiety-provoking in itself, especially if you feel like time is against you.




Our advice

Talk to your fertility specialist. They’ll have an in-depth understanding of your fertility and can tell you whether it’s a good idea to take a short pause from treatment while you look after your well-being.

Remember

Infertility can be an emotional rollercoaster. It's okay to feel a range of emotions, and seeking support from loved ones, support groups, or mental health professionals can provide comfort and guidance.


“You are unique. And what you need to help you navigate your fertility journey will be unique to you.


You are allowed to do it your own way, and you are allowed to be really stressed out at times,” Marie reminds us.


“You’ve got this, and we’re right there with you.”


There is more advice and support for mental health, stress, and infertility at:



And if you’re having fertility treatment with us, please reach out if ever you need to talk.

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