by: Bina Benisch, M.S., R.N.
At East Coast Fertility, we understand the emotional aspect that accompanies infertility, and we believe it is equally important to support our patients emotionally as well as physically. It is important to understand fertility holistically. In addition to treating the various physical etiologies of infertility, we must take into account the effects of stress and anxiety. Your mind and body work together, not separately. Therefore your thoughts have a direct effect on yourphysiology. When you are experiencing stress, your brain releases stress hormones. These stress hormones function in many ways. One of the stress hormones, cortisol, has been documented to interfere with the release of the reproductive hormones, GnRH (gonadatropin releasing hormone), LH (luteinizing hormone), FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), estrogen, and progesterone. In fact, severe enough stress can completely inhibit the reproductive system. Cortisol levels have also been linked to very early pregnancy loss. For this reason, it has been found extremely helpful when treating infertility, to include mind/body methods and strategies which help to alleviate the stress response that sets off a cascade of hormonal responses which may inhibit fertility.
The mind/body work we teach here at East Coast Fertility includes methods that allow the body to return to a calm and relaxed state, thereby turning off the biochemical stress response and allowing our hormonal physiology to function optimally. Feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation, and anger are common themes in infertility. Often, anger masks the feelings of loss experienced month after month of trying to conceive without success. Infertility impacts on one’s marriage, self-esteem, sexual relationship, family, friends, job, and financial security.
One study showed that women going through infertility experience as much depression as women who have been diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses such as metastatic cancer, heart disease, or HIV. When women face these other illnesses, they are likely to seek out the support of their friends and family. The sad aspect of infertility is that although these women are as depressed as those facing life-threatening illnesses, they are far less likely to seek out support from friends and family. Often, thoughts of not living up to the expectation to become pregnant, thoughts such as “why is this happening to me?!”, and the intense emotions of loss related to the thought that one may never have a child, lead to feelings of isolation, anger, and depression.
Although there is a correlation between stress and infertility, the relationship remains complex. However, the research does in fact suggest that psychosocial factors such as depression and anxiety correlate with
lower pregnancy rates following IVF. In addition, of the women who participated in Alice Domar’s Mind/Body program at the Mind/Body institute in Boston, 55% conceived pregnancies that resulted in the birth of a full term baby compared with 20% of the control group.
~ Mind/Body Support Group at East Coast Fertility ~
In our Mind/Body support group, patients experience the opportunity to share information, feelings, or their own personal stories. You may be surprised to see how your support can help others or you may be relieved
to hear others experiencing the same type of thoughts and feelings as you experience. Often, the supportive nature of this group, and the connection that develops between members, fosters a healing process.
Feelings of isolation, anger, and stress are slowly relieved.
Our Mind/Body program focuses on symptom reduction and developing a sense of control over one’s life by utilizing Mind/Body strategies and interventions which elicit the relaxation response. The relaxation
response is actually a physical state that counteracts the stress response. You can think of it as the physiological opposite of the body’s stress response. We cannot be stressed and relaxed at the same time.
Therefore when a person elicits the relaxation response, the body’s stress response is halted, stress hormones diminish. Stress responses such as heart rate, metabolic rate, blood pressure, and shallow breathing decrease. Breathing becomes slower and deeper, so we have more oxygen being delivered to all the cells in the body. The way in which you are taught to elicit the relaxation response is through methods such as: breath focus, guided visual imagery, muscle Relaxation and learned mindfulness, and meditation.
In Mind/Body work, we also work with “cognitive restructuring” which is examining our negative thoughts, seeing where there is distortion, and reframing our thoughts positively and realistically. Often, we have held on to certain negative thoughts and feelings we may have developed years ago. The thought pattern becomes so ingrained in us, that we take it for truth, when in fact, it is a distortion. Cognitive restructuring will help you examine your thoughts and see which are distorted, causing you needless worry, anxiety, or depression. Once you understand how a thought is distorted, you can change those thoughts and alleviate the anxiety attached to them.
Awareness of the mind/body connection allows us to use our minds to make changes in our physiology. This holistic treatment – combining bio-medical science with mind/body medicine deals with the treatment of the whole individual rather than looking only at the physical aspect. The fact is, body and mind work together. We invite you to take advantage of this unique area of support provided at East Coast Fertility and join our Mind/Body group.