5 ways to reduce your stress, when dealing with infertilityOct 03, 2022
Never in the history of the world, have anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down. It’s the same for stress. But it doesn’t stop people from telling us to “Just stop stressing”. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve done your research on the effect that stress has on your body, and your fertility, and as a result, you start stressing about being stressed. It’s a chicken and egg scenario.
This blog has been inspired by two books that I highly recommend you read – Burnout, by Emily & Amelia Nagoski, and Rushing Woman’s Syndrome, by Libby Weaver.
Most importantly, I want you to know that stress and anxiety is not your fault. You don’t have to blame yourself for the impact this is having on you. Because the odds are stacked against us when it comes to stress. We were destined to be stressed to our eyeballs, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it’s the expectations that are placed upon us. Grab any self-help book from the bookshelves and it will tell you how important it is to be more, have more, and do more. I grew up being encouraged to always try harder, be the best I could be, and that hard work would be rewarded. Now, on the outset, this sounds like some lovely words of inspiration, doesn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that my parents did me a disservice. In fact, it was awesome that they pushed me. But the result is that I am now an overachiever, with impossible expectations that I place on myself. Never being satisfied, and always looking for ways to improve (instead of looking at all I have achieved). It’s hard to achieve balance when you have super-high expectations.
Next is society’s expectations. As women, we are expected to be givers, carers, nurturers, to be calm, not show emotion (because we don’t want to be called too emotional)…….and we must look pretty while doing it. We’re judged by others (and sadly by other women too), if we put our own needs in front of anyone else’s. If we take some time for ourselves, people look down their noses at us and remark “oh it must be so nice to have so much free time”.
That role may have been appropriate in the early 1,900’s when we were required to stay at home and tend to the farm, but now we’re working full-time jobs at the same time as all of that. And even if you have a supportive partner who helps out, we still carry the emotional load of ALL of that. We are always thinking 10 steps ahead and quietly calculating the potential outcomes.
And of course, we don’t want to let anyone down…….because we’re also people pleasers.
And lastly (although I’m sure there are so many more reasons why this isn’t your fault), we were never taught how to deal with our emotions in a healthy way. Which means that we get stuck inside our emotions, just like you would get stuck inside a tunnel. If you can’t move through the emotion in a healthy way, you live inside it. Let’s use one of the most common emotions on your fertility journey – anger. We were always taught that anger wasn’t a healthy thing to feel, so we keep pushing it down, and denying that we’re angry or worse, hiding it. People keep telling us to just be grateful and positive, so we get stuck in this anger tunnel. This leads to stress and exhaustion, and an inability to process and move through our emotions in a healthy way.
Now that you know you’re up against hundreds of years of learned behaviors and societal expectations, you can release the guilt about this being all your fault. It’s not. So how do we reduce our stress?
Firstly, let’s try to deal with the stressor i.e. the thing that is causing you stress. Ok, so this is a tough thing. Because infertility and loss are somewhat out of our control. It’s a diagnosis; a disease. But perhaps we can reframe how we look at it. You can read THIS BLOG that I wrote, to see how you can change the goal and try to alleviate the stressor.
Now, it’s not just a matter of dealing with the stressor. We all think that we’ll be free of the stress when we finally get pregnant, or hold our baby in our arms. But those things aren’t enough to tell our body that it’s safe.
To deal with the actual stress, we need to complete the stress cycle. Stress has a beginning, a middle and an end. And a lot of the time, especially on our fertility journey, we get stuck in the middle. There are constant triggers – whether it’s seeing a pregnancy announcement, worrying about whether you’re doing enough, people asking you insensitive questions, going through an IVF cycle – the list is endless. Your body feels like it’s under attack 24/7, which is exhausting. And for some of us, we are on this journey for SO long, which can mean years of never completing that stress cycle.
Unfortunately, it's not just a matter of telling yourself that you’re safe, or to calm down (hence why other people telling you to calm down doesn’t help on so many levels). Nor do affirmations in isolation, work to reduce your stress. Something physical needs to happen, in order to communicate to our body that it is safe. So here are some strategies you can apply, based on the information in the resources I mentioned above.
- Physical exercise is the single most efficient way to complete the cycle. You can run, swim, dance or do anything that gets you breathing deeply. Between 20-60 minutes a day is best, because for a lot of us, the stressor is still there. So, we need to continually keep telling our body and our brain that you have successfully survived the threat, and are now safe.
- Deep breathing. I know this sounds weird, because we all know how to breathe, right. But we rarely breathe into our belly. And when we’re stressed, we can tend to hold our breath, or shallow breathe. Breathing (correctly) is the quickest and easiest way to tap into your Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) which is essential for reproduction. It is scientifically proven (no woo woo here) that breathing lowers stress hormones including cortisol, your blood pressure, and increases blood circulation and oxygen in the blood. Making the exhale longer and slower than your inhale works best.
- Connection is a basic human need. And it’s another way to complete the stress cycle – through social interaction, laughter or affection. It shows your body that the world is a safe place. When we laugh, it helps to regulate your emotions. And when we show each other affection on a physical level, it tells your body it is safe. A 6 second kiss or a 20 second hug can change your hormones, lower your blood pressure and heart rate, and improve your mood. Even petting your dog or cat can lower your blood pressure.
- It’s something that makes us, and those around us, feel uncomfortable. I was always told to go to my room to cry, as if there was something wrong with it. We apologize to others when we cry – there is a huge stigma attached to it. But the more we push it down, the worse it is for our body. It can physically hurt to hold in a cry. Crying can give us relief, and I’d recommend that you allocate some crying time each week. It could be in the shower, in your car, watching a sad movie, listening to a sad song, or while writing in your journal. Worried that you won’t stop if you start? You will, I promise. And now you know that crying is actually doing your body a favor, and reducing your stress.
- Being creative. Whether it’s painting, singing, or writing, being creative gives us a chance to move through the big emotions. I can tell you from personal experience, writing my book, The Injustice of Infertility was the one thing that allowed me to process and heal from the trauma of infertility or loss. Before I wrote it, I was still very much inside my stress cycle, despite getting to the end of my fertility journey with two beautiful children. I’m telling you, creativity works.
The most important thing to note with stress is that doing nothing, or just telling yourself that everything is ok, doesn’t work. You have to do something. And if you’re not sure how to take action and need a little inspiration or motivation, send me a message and find out how you can work with me.
Would you like to know more about how you can work with me, so you can get back control of your life and start moving forward? My 1:1 coaching program is packed with information, tools and support. Find out how you can get on the wait list now.
Are you ready to BEAT STRESS + BOOST FERTILITY?
It's no secret that stress can have a negative impact on your fertility.
That's why people keep telling you to "just relax", which is NOT helpful, and only fuels your stress.
But HOW do you reduce your stress, when infertility is stressing the heck out of you to begin with?
HOW do you slow down, feel at peace, achieve a little more balance in your life and say good bye to the inner struggle?
Download this free PDF for 3 simple hacks you can implement today to tip the scales in your favor.