Nearly 1 in 8 couples will face infertility at some point in their relationship1. And anyone who has struggled with infertility can attest to the physical and emotional strain that accompanies this path to attempted parenthood. The rollercoaster of hormones, hope and disappointment form a breeding ground for worry, making anxiety nearly universal to the treatment process. Recent studies reassure us that anxiety and emotional distress do not negatively impact rates of success with IVF2, however, they do make an already difficult time more challenging.
If you or someone you love is dealing with infertility--and the chances of this are good given that it impacts up to 10% of the population1--consider these tips for coping with the anxiety that is inherent to the process:
• Pamper yourself. Between the daily hormone injections, the blood draws and ultrasound monitoring of an IVF cycle, your body takes quite a beating. Be sure to give yourself a little extra TLC. Get a massage. Do yoga. Try acupuncture. Take a nap. Treat yourself to what you enjoy. You've earned it.
• Find support. Though you may feel alone in this process at times, infertility is quite common. You may already know friends or family members who have struggled with infertility. Talk to them. If you don't know anyone, ask the nurse at your IVF clinic for referral to a local or online support group.
• Be informed. Ask questions. Try to learn the jargon and understand your test results. It makes the unpredictable feel more in control. If you need help, ask your doctor to recommend a good book or website on IVF. Stay away from unreliable sources of information that can lead you astray and add to your anxiety.
• Stay rooted in the present. It can be overwhelming to deal with the myriad details of IVF: the medication regimen, the monitoring, the instructions, the potential outcomes. Sometimes it is too much to take in all at once. If you find yourself stressed about the process, bring yourself back to the present. What is happening in this moment? What do you need to do today, not tomorrow or next week? Focus only on the next step.
• Ease up on your schedule. Cut obligations where you can. Delegate work or chores if possible. Ask for help from friends, family, colleagues or neighbors. IVF is a time-intensive process--letting go of any extra responsibilities will give you the time to make your appointments while decreasing the stress of trying to juggle too much.
• Remember your life outside IVF. It is easy to get swept up in the process so that the quest to conceive becomes your sole focus. What did you like to do before you began IVF? Paint? Walk? Read? Do it. What in your life is going well? Do you have great friends? A good husband? A job you like? Focusing on those good areas in your life doesn't mean that getting pregnant isn't a priority, it simply helps to balance out your attention and lower anxiety while you undergo treatment.
• Stay away from worst case scenarios. Of course, it is impossible to predict the future but what good does imagining the worst do? If you find yourself playing out negative scenes from the future, try visualizing a positive scene instead. Imagine your embryos as they implant. See yourself relaxed and calm, receiving good news from your doctor. Rethink those negative thoughts with more realistic ones--remember that every IVF cycle is a new opportunity with a potentially new outcome.
• Get help if you need it. If you find that your anxiety becomes unmanageable or if you're struggling with depression, don't be afraid to seek professional help. Many women need a little extra help during this difficult time. Contact your local infertility clinic for resources or search online at websites like www.resolve.org for assistance. Good luck!
1. Chandra A, Martinez GM, Mosher WD, Abma JC, Jones J. Fertility, family planning and reproductive health of US Women: data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth. Vital Health Stat 23. 2005; 25: 1-160.
2. Boivin J, Griffiths E, Venetis CA. Emotional distress in infertile women and failure of assisted reproductive technologies: meta-analysis of prospective psychosocial studies. BMJ. 2011; 342: d223.