Fertility and Mindfulness
In my role as a fertility expert I help women through the difficult and often all-consuming emotions they can experience while trying to conceive or going through fertility treatment. Women seem instinctively aware that their emotions can impact on their fertility. Sometimes they will say to me things like: 'I'm stressed that I am stressed, because I know it's bad for me!'
Throughout our lives we will experience times of intense emotional difficulty and sometimes unimaginable stress. This is part of the human condition and in many ways how we cope and adapt to these times will shape us for years to come. For some people the journey towards becoming a parent can present many challenges and we all respond differently to these. Some people are like the river running gently around the rocks, whereas others will get stuck trying to clamber over them.
Stress linked to infertility
A recent study from the university of Ohio and published in Human Reproduction demonstrated the most convincing link to date between stress and infertility. But few health care professionals know how to advise their patients in effective ways to reduce stress. Indeed simply telling couples they need to reduce stress at a time in their lives when they are often very stressed can be counter productive! The way I see it is there is stress that is unavoidable and stress of our own making. It is important to identify stress which we can change and accept that which we can't.
I have felt that for the last ten years public health messages have been very much focused on good diet and this has led to many people improving their eating habits and valuing the importance of a healthy diet and beneficial supplements. Of course this is a good thing ? a great thing. However, I feel the next area of interest will be the mind and how it is central to our health and wellbeing. Certainly patients are becoming more aware that physical problems can have their roots in emotional difficulties, or that emotional difficulties impact on their physical problems. The mind and the body are not separate.
Patients come to see me with many anxieties and stresses; there is fear of failure, sometimes even a feeling of panic. Some of the patients I see are impatient, and some are busy accumulating more information than they could ever absorb. As humans we can be competitive and use to getting what we want in life, when we want it, and become frustrated when things don't go to plan. Some of us like to have a schedule and have control over our lives, whereas others may need to develop some order and organisation. Many are unhappy and experiencing acute feelings of grief and sadness. All of these things can impact on our relationships and our overall sense of wellbeing and, yes, our fertility.
I aim to help my patients develop a sense of calm and clarity; to be relaxed yet disciplined and to take positive actions without being fixated or obsessed. It is important to learn when to take charge and when to let go. It is important to find peace within ourselves; we can learn so much when we realise that some of the stresses in our lives are generated from within and that we have the power to choose how we react to what life brings us - we have within us the power to make things easier, more simple.
It is important to cultivate emotional wellness and to learn how to identify some of the stresses that we might be creating or contributing to. Identifying the areas we can work on in our lives and understanding how we ourselves can be mindful can have far-reaching benefits. We can be mindful about our menstrual cycle, being aware of our body as it changes throughout the month. We can eat mindfully, which has been shown to improve the digestion and absorption of food. We can develop an awareness about how we create stress for ourselves and how we can change this pattern. And of course we can be mindful with our partners.
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