Everybody manages stress in different ways. Trying for a baby and dealing with day to day life generally can be an emotionally draining time, especially when couples experience difficulties in conceiving. We’ve partnered with Zita West and some of her fertility experts to give you the lowdown on how this can impact both male and female fertility and offer advice on how to manage it.
The question as to whether stress can contribute to or cause delays in conceiving is still controversial; however it makes complete sense that your chances of conception are optimal when you are not under additional pressure and you still have some reserves. The increasing pressures of everyday life can result in a woman’s body secreting excessive amounts of stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol, which in turn can interfere with the secretion of female sex hormones and negatively impact upon the chances of conception. Stress also increases the level of prolactin (the breastfeeding hormone). Increased levels of stress can result in disruption to ovulation and the menstrual cycle and also a reduction in libido for many women.
During the conception process men are often very focused on reassuring their partner and can find it hard to express their feelings as they may be concerned about saying the wrong thing. Feelings of stress in men can reduce the level of male hormones adversely affecting libido and sperm production. The pressure to have sex at the 'right time' can also cause 'performance anxiety'; it is very common for men to suffer temporary problems with getting or maintaining an erection or difficulties ejaculating. Do discuss any sexual difficulties with your doctor.
The great thing about the human body is that it is always trying to get the balance back so there is a lot you can do through stress reduction techniques to help manage your stress levels. It is important to prevent stress from affecting your well-being. It is often the ways in which people deal with stress that determine whether or not it can have a harmful effect. Identifying which areas of life need adjusting to reduce stress and learning how to switch off from the pressures of the outside world are two key ways in which you can shape mood, balance hormones and improve overall health. If all these factors are considered then the chances of conceiving can be improved.
It is not possible or desirable to eliminate all stress from everyday life, however it is important to prevent it from affecting your well-being.
Try these simple ways to relax…
The Positive Mind Plan by Zita West and Jane Knight, is designed to help you understand your current situation and allow you to move forward with a more positive outlook on life.
First you must determine what it is that’s causing any negative thoughts and once you’ve figured this out then you can begin to build a mind plan to combat it using the techniques outlined below. Follow the steps below to build your own - there is no minimum or maximum number of steps to include; it’s entirely up to you to decide what’s right for you and what will help you achieve your goals.
1. Action plan
This is the most important element and should be where you determine your key goals and plan how you will achieve them. This could be anything from eating more healthily to having wilder sex! Be sure to write them down and include lots of things that give you pleasure. Make sure you write down the next action you need to take and when, to help you achieve that goal (for example: 'Buy salad veg on the way home')
2. Positive affirmations
Get your positive thoughts out there! Write down some personal positive statements and read them before you got to bed. You may want to try taking your negative thoughts about conception and turning them in to a positive by writing in the present tense. For example:
Negative thought: ‘The doctor says there’s only a 5% chance I’ll conceive.’
Positive affirmation: ‘I am one of the 5%.’
Read them out loud convincingly until you’re comfortable. Take 10 long, slow, deep breaths and allow your body to relax. Allow each of your positive statements to repeat themselves in your subconscious mind whilst you picture yourself living them. For example for ‘I am one of the 5%’ - imagine yourself finding out you’re pregnant.
3. Visualisation techniques
Try to practice 20 minutes of self-help visualisation or stress reduction techniques per day.
Visualisation is a method used by Olympic athletes to help them hone in on their technique. The idea of achieving something becomes a lot more real when you can picture it in your head. It may not work for everyone, but it’s worth doing all the positive things you can to create a healthy mind-set and remove negative thoughts.
Meditation helps to calm the mind and has huge benefits for relaxation. This is something that takes time and practice, but it can be taught easily. Research has shown that meditation can lead to reduced stress levels, lower blood pressure and a healthier immune system. You may want to listen to a CD guide or practise breathing techniques or yoga – some people also use prayer as a means of meditation.
Writing can be a great release. Grab a pen and paper and allow your thoughts and emotions to spill out onto the page in a constant flow of writing. This can be very helpful if you have been through a difficult time, for example following an unsuccessful IVF cycle or a miscarriage.
When you’re done, you may never read it, and if eventually you do it may just be a reminder to yourself of how down you felt at the time and how much things have moved on for you since.
You can also try drawing an emotional time-line: a wavy horizontal line that goes up and down depending on the events of your life and your emotional response to them. This may include things like a happy childhood, being bullied at school, parents divorcing, meeting your partner. This will help you recognise other times in your life that you have felt down and vulnerable. A time-line can help you think of new or existing resources to make changes and help you in your present situation.
We all fall into a state of hypnosis every day. It’s a naturally occurring event, such as day dreaming or being engrossed in something. An example of this is when you’re reading a book you may be sitting on the bus and although you are completely aware that there are other people on the bus but you have switched off to them as you are completely engrossed in your book.
Hypnotherapy is very safe, you are always in control and aware of your surroundings. It can help reduce the stresses of an IVF cycle and improve relaxation; it boosts confidence in your ability to conceive naturally or after a miscarriage.
It’s also good for men who have developed ‘performance anxiety’ due to the pressure of having sex at fertile times.
Anxieties and emotions that may be buried deep in your subconscious can act as negative blocks. Hypnotherapists can help you reach a deep state of relaxation, accessing your subconscious and make positive suggestions that release deep fears and anxieties.
Recent research has shown that women who have the ability to relinquish control and let go are nearly twice as likely to conceive.*
*Compiled with information supplied by Maureen Kiely, Clinical Hypnotherapist
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
This is a talking therapy widely used in the NHS to deal with depression. It helps you examine how the way you think affects the way you feel and the way you behave. CBT can help if you are feeling angry, fearful or hopeless and lost confidence in your body, or believe that you can’t or won’t conceive. CBT helps you to feel better and more positive about life.
It is important for people to have someone to talk to and confide in during hard times, this could be a family member or a friend, or anyone you feel you can trust. However a lot of couples feel that they don’t have anyone that they can turn to and that’s where fertility counselling can help. It’s a completely confidential process allowing individuals or couples to explore and express their feelings and emotions, helping them get a better understanding for each other and their current situation. A single session may be really valuable to help you get the perspective back on life, other times a number of sessions may be more appropriate*
* Compiled with information supplied by Jane Knight, Fertility Nurse
It’s not always easy to find the words to express yourself and your feelings. Creating images uses a different part of your brain and helps access the subconscious mind. This can be a creative way to give shape to difficulties. You don’t need to be able to draw, it doesn’t matter what the outcome of your creation is, simply allow yourself to express how you are feeling by doodling or painting. This can often help identify issues and make talking about them much easier.
Medical information provided by Zita West, Midwife, Fertility and Pregnancy Expert.