Photo by Nynne Shroder
Are anxiety and stress on the verge of ruining your IVF hopes? Or are you considering IVF, and wondering how you can prepare in advance for the emotional and mental challenges ahead?
Anxiety and stress – key factors in why IVF cycles don’t take?
Research is actually on the fence over whether emotional distress physically lowers pregnancy success rates from IVF.
There are many small scale studies that connect stress to negative results with IVF, such as an American study which measured stress and anxiety at five different points of the IVF cycle. It concluded that “women with lower stress and anxiety levels on the day prior to oocyte retrieval had a higher pregnancy rate”.
And yet a 2011 large-scale meta-analysis looked at 14 different studies that together involved 3583 women undergoing a cycle of fertility treatment and concluded that the affect of stress on pregnancy outcome is overrated.
It states that, “emotional distress caused by fertility problems or other life events co-occurring with treatment will not compromise the chance of becoming pregnant.”
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The REAL reason stress ruins IVF?
The problem with saying that stress and anxiety don’t really affect IVF pregnancy results is that it overlooks something crucial. Just because stress and anxiety don’t make the body less successful doesn’t mean the mind is going to cope.
Anxiety and stress lead to many couples feeling so overwhelmed, they quit before they finish the cycles they signed up for. And you can’t win if you aren’t in the game. A Swedish study found that of 450 participating couples, a shocking 26% quit IVF because of the psychological stress it presented.
Why is IVF so darned stressful?
It’s physically demanding, for starters. And when we are suffering physically, our thoughts can become negative and our moods erratic.
And it’s tough on relationships. The IVF process shines a light on any unresolved conflict between you and your partner, or any unhealthy ways of communicating you’ve let slide for far too long.
It can also put stress on your relationships with family, and other parents who might not understand what you’re going through. Suddenly you feel frustrated, misunderstood, and alone.
And then there is financial stress. You might disagree with your partner on how many rounds you can afford (money is a common relationship conflict). Even if you have the money, you might suffer guilt about spending so much on a process with a limited success rate.
Finally, IVF can be a trigger for any mental health issues you already had. It’s not always just the IVF process itself, but that we already are prone to stress and depression.
7 Ways to navigate the stress of IVF
1. Don’t tell the wrong people.
When we are already stressed, the last thing we need is to have other people make us feel even more worried. If it’s not already too late, have a chat with your partner about who you want to tell and who you would rather leave out of it.
Yes, a gossipy mother-in-law might be insulted to learn in the future she was not told, but if that is the difference between making it through IVF without daily anxiety attacks, it’s something you can deal with later.
2. But do talk to the ones who actually get it.
Many people who went through IVF recommend this as a key essential – talking to and reaching out to others who have gone through IVF or are in process, not just doctors and nurses who know the scientific side.
If you don’t know anyone, look for support groups, blogs, and online forums.
3. Go big-time on the boundaries.
photo by Taylor Hernandez
If you’ve traditionally not been good at saying no or sticking up for yourself? Now is the time to learn.
It’s important you and your partner or whoever else is involved set strong boundaries as soon as possible, and have scheduled meetings to go over them using positive communication.
Be honest about what is and isn’t working for you, what you don’t want said to you, when you want help, and when you want to be left alone.
You might want to also consider ‘stop words’ you can use if you are in a conversation that is crossing your boundary and about to send you into anxiety.
4. Schedule wellbeing in pen.
Yes, we all know we need to do exercise, eat well, and de-stress if we are to create an ideal environment for fertility. And we decide we’ll do all that… then life steps in and it all gets pushed or cancelled.
Stop pencilling in wellbeing. Make it as important as a doctor’s appointment and as non-negotiable. If your Friday yoga class makes you feel better, and someone says you have to go to a friend’s launch, say you’ve got an appointment you can’t miss. You don’t owe a further explanation, but you do owe yourself self-care.
5. Practise Mindfulness. Daily.
This is an easy, free tool (or really, power tool) that helps you stop constantly thinking about worst possible outcomes. And mindfulness is proven by research to help with anxiety and stress.
Twenty minutes of mindfulness a day can become the difference between a day riddled with anxiety, or a day where you feel you can cope. So what are you waiting for? Go and read our free “Guide to Mindfulness” and get the habit started. You can even use mindfulness apps if that’s your thing.
6. Drop all comparisons.
It’s not just about not comparing yourself to others, it’s about not comparing today to yesterday, or this year to last year. It’s important to take life one day at a time when going through the IVF process.
7. Seek outside support.
Friends are great, but sometimes the most precious thing can be someone outside of everything who we can freely vent to without repercussion.
A counsellor or psychotherapist might be an additional cost, yes. But depression, anxiety, and constant conflict with your partner all take a tremendous amount of time. If time is money, and counselling for IVF woes helps you avoid all of the above? Then therapy can be a very worthwhile investment indeed.
Need to talk to someone who gets your IVF stress? Or want a couples counsellor to help you navigate this? Harley Therapy puts you in touch with London’s top talk therapists. Not in London? Try our booking platform and find a registered therapist close to you, or try online therapy from anywhere.
Still have a question about anxiety, stress, and IVF? Ask in the comment box below.