05/02/2016 10:05 GMT | Updated 05/02/2017 05:12 GMT

A Natural Way to Deal With the Stress of Infertility

I tend to meet couples who have been trying for a baby for longer than 6 months, but some have been trying for as long as 15 years. I have treated couples attempting IVF /ICSI for the eleventh time. Whatever the situation, stress and anxiety are common symptoms of a delayed conception and the side effects can make it very hard for someone to manage.

Humans have evolved with the 'fight or flight mechanism' to deal with stressful situations. A natural state where the brain pumps adrenalin, the heart beats faster and because it is working harder, it needs more fuel, so we breathe more heavily then sweat and flush in order to cool down.

As a survival technique this is a very useful reaction, but someone under a great deal of emotional stress can trigger a 'fight or flight' response to an everyday situation and this can be very tough to handle.

Manifestations of a reaction tend to fall into three categories. Physical such as irregular breathing, heart racing, shaking, 'butterflies' or feeling sick; behavioural such as avoiding situations, having a sudden urge to leave somewhere; or psychological which includes blurred thinking, low self-opinion, negative thoughts about a situation we fear and vulnerability.

Anxiety eats away at our confidence and makes things that were once easy for us to do, really difficult. Thoughts of "I'm not good enough, smart enough, thin enough" are manifestations of stress and anxiety that many of us can associate with.

One of the tools that I find most useful to deal with stress and anxiety is Mindfulness.

Mindfulness helps us to understand what the triggers of stress might be so that we can create coping mechanisms and stop a reaction manifesting. It involves noticing your feelings without trying to control them, giving you the chance to step back and calmly evaluate any unpleasant thoughts.

A technique in Mindfulness is breathing consciously, drawing your attention to every breath in order to slow down and calm yourself. Thinking about what you are doing as you are doing it: 'living in the here and now'.

Harvard University¹ has found that 47% of the time we are worrying about the past or the future. They surmise that we spend half our time not thinking about, or enjoying the present moment.

We can practice Mindfulness at any moment and those who do, say they see things from a different perspective, become less overwhelmed by negative thoughts and less judgmental of themselves and others. It can also help curb panic attacks, enable people petrified by public speaking and help manage other complex conditions like depression, addiction and OCD.

But, most importantly perhaps we can be more present for ourselves and the people around us. In my professional life, it is one of the best gifts I can give my patients: 'I understand, I am here for you now.'

For the couples I meet who are under significant emotional pressure, Mindfulness gives them the opportunity to step back from their overwhelming thoughts and get a different perspective. By noticing how their thoughts impact on their behavior, they can become 'self as observer'. It allows them to act more within their value system and to be kinder to themselves.

By approaching life in a more mindful way, looking at things more closely and taking time to see moments and understand feelings from a different perspective, we can all lead a more positive path of self-acceptance. These small changes can have tremendous effect.


1. Harvard psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert 2010.