Managing the stress of infertility - part II

In Part II of the article on managing the stress of infertility, Anya Sizer of The London Women’s Clinic discusses how you can personalise the techniques used to manage this particular type of stress.

Personalising your infertility stress management

We are all unique individuals and both our reaction to stress and the tools to help ourselves cope will be personal. There is no one size that fits all. Patients are encouraged to write a stress log recording:

  • What specifically happened?
  • What were the triggers?
  • What happened physically and psychologically?
  • What if anything helped?

We can then begin to see the areas that trigger the most stress and how we experience stress. We can look at how best to help and support ourselves.

Support falls into three categories: physiological, practical and psychological. Patients are encouraged to brainstorm the things that work best for them and to be proactive in making these a priority.

Physiological management

  • Controlled breathing: Learning to stop and take a breath at a slower pace than usual, counting to five. Then exhaling slowly.

  • Progressive muscle relaxation: Taking a moment to become aware of areas of the body that may have become tense. Constricting these areas then gradually letting go...a classic example being holding stress in our shoulders.

  • Physical exercise: Low-impact exercise in particular can be a fantastic way to get endorphins going and to regain perspective. Yoga is an especially useful resource.

  • Distraction techniques: Finding those things that you can lose yourself in from singing to reading, to watching box sets of Poirot. Anything that you find focuses the mind and gives you some respite from fertility issues.

  • Mindfulness: A wonderful tool in which you literally focus intently on just one thing at a time and do this at various moments throughout the day, noticing what you experience. Take a few moments to notice what you can see, taste, touch, smell and hear. Or take time to eat mindfully rather than simply seeing food as fuel.

Practical management

  • How can you best help yourself: From nutritional support to acupuncture or getting help with the cleaning, be proactive in building a support network. Brainstorm a list, take the top five and make sure you do something towards building that team.

  • Who or what is not helping: Infertility will put an enormous strain on your resources and test even the most patient of people.There may be friends that are usually quite draining that may need to take a back seat, or projects to put on hold.The key thing to remember is that this is no time to be superhuman.

Psychological management

  • Journaling: There has been much research on the therapeutic aspects of journaling. There is no correct way to do it. Just get your feelings down on paper. You can then choose to read it or throw it away, or read it another time.

  • WDINRN: This is a simple mnemonic to help keep you calm throughout the day and stands for “What do I need right now?” The answer can be simple (I need to take a five minute break) or more complex (I need to ask a friend for support). The key is to keep checking on how you are actually doing, to look after your needs rather than ignoring them. Then take small proactive steps to help yourself.

  • Gratitude diary: When things are tough, it can be easy to focus on the negative. I am not suggesting you pretend that everything is fine, but it can be helpful to find some good even in the midst of difficulty. Anything from a kind text from a friend to a TV programme that made you laugh. It is also really helpful to notice the things that you are personally proud of. Notice the good by recording it in a diary.

  • Own best friend technique: This exercise encapsulates everything I have so far said. Imagine for a moment a best friend. Someone you really love and care for and only want the best for. Now imagine they are going through the same thing as you are right now. What do you feel towards this person? What do you want for them? And, perhaps most importantly, what are your expectations? So often our standards are so high for ourselves when going through difficulties, far higher than they would be for someone else.

From now on only apply the same expectations on yourself as you would do for a dearly loved friend.

Infertility is one of the toughest issues a woman can face, and stress is an inevitable part of that journey. By using a few of the stress management techniques, the journey is a little more bearable.

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