The stress of infertility and how yoga can help
When things aren’t going to plan, coping with the unknown is one of the greatest challenges on the journey to conceive. It contributes to the high levels of stress and anxiety couples face when dealing with fertility issues.
There are things that couples can do to help their situation, such as improve their health with lifestyle and diet changes, consult with fertility specialists, look at other complementary healing methods, and utilise the advancements of science. Couples can do all the right things but there is still that one magical, life force element that determines whether this baby is coming through to us. This is the part we have no control over and it can make the journey difficult and stressful.
The connection between stress and infertility continues to be researched and debated. There is evidence to suggest that stress can be a contributing factor to fertility challenges and poor IVF outcomes and then there are studies that have not shown stress to be an influence on IVF outcomes. The results of studies may be mixed because there are so many causes for infertility and there are lots of different methods used to measure stress. However, what we do know is that the diagnosis of infertility and the process of going through an IVF cycle is stressful, increases anxiety and depression, can feel all-consuming, and is a major reason couples discontinue treatment.
Yoga for infertility
Having walked this path with so many women, I see the effect the stress of this situation has on them physically, mentally and emotionally. I have also witnessed time and time again how yoga can work as a soothing balm on their overwhelm, anxiety and feelings of powerlessness.
Yoga for fertility focuses on those practices and yogic tools that work to calm the nervous system and students learn to use these methods off the mat in daily life. These tools support them to flow more easily as they ride the emotional roller coaster that is the fertility journey. Sometimes we can’t stop the stress but we can learn ways to deal with it better and yoga is a self-empowering method to do this.
When looking at how stress impairs us physically, research indicates that chronic emotional stress may affect fertility by impacting the functioning of the human stress response system, which disrupts the reproductive process. Stress produces raised cortisol and adrenaline levels, which in turn deregulates other hormones that support fertility health.
When dealing with fertility issues long term, the stress response can become chronic and it takes an intervention like yoga to bring the body and mind out of this state. If you have ever had someone tell you ‘just relax’ when you are highly anxious, you know it’s not always that simple when the stressor remains present - we need the tools and skills to effectively calm ourselves.
Backed by research
Yoga has the proven ability to deal with the body’s stress response, to bring the body and mind back to a more balanced state that is essential for our physical health and supportive of fertility health. Researchers have conducted studies on yoga’s effectiveness to reduce stress and anxiety levels for women dealing with infertility. Many of these studies have involved testing women’s levels of stress and anxiety before undertaking a yoga course while awaiting assisted reproductive treatment, most often IVF, then testing their levels of stress and anxiety after the program. Comparisons are then made with women who have not undertaken yoga therapy.
Results have shown a significant reduction in stress and anxiety for those who partake in the yoga programs. Yoga was found to improve the overall quality of life for those dealing with infertility, helped to reduce negative feelings and negative thoughts related to infertility, and was found to reduce general anxiety and depression when practised regularly over time.
We can’t control the life force magic that realises a child, we can’t always control the stressors in our life when we are struggling with infertility, but we can learn ways to take care of ourselves and deal with a crisis in a healthy way. Learning to use the tools of yoga to support you through this time of crisis is just the beginning, the skills and practices you learn now will support you through parenthood and will also help you through any challenges you face in the future.