Written by: Dr. Cindy M. Duke, MD, PhD, FACOG
No one ever grows up expecting to have infertility. Yet, it is extremely common —affecting one in eight couples in the United States. Being diagnosed with infertility can be emotionally devastating, raising fears of invasive and expensive procedures that may or may not work and jeopardizing lifelong dreams that may or may not come true. However, access to infertility evaluation and treatment is more attainable than ever before.
The relationship between stress and infertility is complex. Psychological stress does not appear to cause infertility, but infertility is certainly a major cause of psychological stress for our patients.
Facing infertility can cause a profound emotional strain that most couples don’t expect. Studies have shown that up to 40% of women meet diagnostic criteria for anxiety or depression at the time of their initial visit with a fertility specialist, and many women go on to report their experience with infertility and its treatments as the most stressful event of their lives.
Infertility can be very isolating. Many persons struggling with infertility have a hard time talking with their family members, friends, or even their partners about such personal issues, and often end up suffering in silence as a result.
Social pressures commonly add to the emotional burden of infertility. Reminders of infertility are everywhere—a baby photo on a social media site, a birth announcement in the mail, a holiday dinner with nephews and nieces.
These everyday encounters may lead to social withdrawal in some, while others experience symptoms such as irritability, insomnia, weight changes, or difficulty concentrating.
Encouraging stress reduction and healthy coping techniques is an essential part of the role of a fertility specialist. Stress is the #1 reason people abandon fertility care—not treatment failure, not financial concerns—simply overwhelming emotional stress. Although studies have shown that stress reduction doesn’t directly lead to higher pregnancy rates, it does ultimately help more couples to reach their goal of becoming pregnant: It helps them to keep trying.
Women and men undergoing fertility treatments can effectively reduce their stress in a number of different ways. Acupuncture, yoga, art, music, sports, dance, and exercise are all commonly used, and couples are also encouraged to stay engaged with their social support networks.
The journey to parenthood can be challenging, but it helps to know that you are not alone.
Dr. Cindy M. Duke, MD, PhD, FACOG is a Johns Hopkins & Yale trained Fertility Specialist, Virologist, Blogger, Influencer & Clinical Assistant Professor. She is the founding physician, medical director & laboratory director of the Nevada Fertility Institute located at 8530 W. Sunset Road, Suite 310 Las Vegas, NV 89113 firstname.lastname@example.org DrCindyDuke.com
*This article is not a paid or sponsored contribution