Coping with stress and anxiety that can go hand in hand with IVF

Most of us who have been trying for a baby and have not been successful are only too well aware of the stress and anxiety that goes along with it.

Everyone is telling you to relax and it will happen (easier said than done).  Then you have the stress, anger and loneliness that takes place when you see a pregnant woman walking down the road, the mixed emotions you experience when your best friend calls you to tell you she is expecting, or your parents are asking you when you are going to start a family.

Then when you finally decide to take the step to IVF, you experience other forms of stress – what clinic do I go to, how can I take time off work, what if it doesn’t work, what do I do next?

All of this will take its toll on your nervous system and we then experience raised levels of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, which makes conceiving even more difficult.    In Chinese Medicine this correlates to Liver Qi Stagnation.  The liver is responsible for the smooth flow of Qi (or energy) within the body.  When the body is under stress, the Qi stagnates and causes a variety of symptoms – delayed, painful or erratic periods, mood swings, depression, anger, insomnia.  For those of you tracking your temperatures you will see a “sawtooth” pattern where one day the temperature is escalated, and the next day it drops significantly.  It becomes quite difficult to conceive under these conditions.

So how do we combat these rollercoaster emotions and stresses?

Naturally I would say that acupuncture is an excellent tool to assist in this process however I am aware that this is not for everyone. If you do decide to visit an acupuncturist, please ensure they are a member of a governing body (most notably the British Acupuncture Council) and that they have extensive experience with Fertility Acupuncture.  It is a highly specialised field and you will know you are being looked after.

Meditation is an excellent form of relaxation and has actually been proven to reduce the impact of cortisol in your body.

Our minds are meant to be active and meant to be used at all times.  Meditation takes you into a state of deep peace that can occur when the mind is calm and silent.  This can be difficult to achieve and therefore I would recommend listening to a guided meditation that can take you through the various stages of meditation, taking you deeper into relaxation than you may be able to achieve on your own.  There are various forms of meditation so please try to find the right one for you – Mindfulness, Visualisation, Heart Rhythm, Transcendental, etc.

Hypnosis can also help you to relax by inducing the patient into a state of consciousness where a person can lose power of voluntary action and become highly responsive to suggestion or direction.

People can sometimes experience self-sabotage as a way of protection when they are undergoing fertility problems and this form of therapy can prove highly effective.  Recognised governing bodies such as GHR, HS and NCH would be a good place to start to find a qualified practitioner.

While not as popular in every country, Talking Therapy is excellent to assist with stress, anxiety and negative feelings.

There can often be a “why me” or “its not fair” mentality when you are undergoing fertility treatment, especially if you suffer from a condition where IVF is your only option.  Talking this through with a trained professional is a very useful tool to help deal with these types of emotions and most fertility clinics employ a counsellor for this reason.

Reflexology is another form of alternative therapy that can aid relaxation.

It is based on the premise that your feet contain a system of zones and reflex areas that reflect the image of the body, and application of pressure on these areas can effect a physical change in the body.

The advice I give to all my patients, and the mindset I set for myself when I was going through this, is to look at IVF as a means to an end.  Approach this as a positive journey in your life which will take you to your final goal.  Don’t fill your mind with negative feelings – “what if it doesn’t work, some people I know have to go through endless rounds before it works, if I tell myself it won’t work, than I will be pleasantly surprised if it does.”

All of the negative thinking that can happen with some of us is just putting bad energy out there and you end up surrounding yourself cloaked in more and more negative emotion.  Just tell yourself it will work and you will deal with whatever outcome you are given.

I can now look back at IVF as a blessing.  Everything pointed against me – my age (41 and 43 respectively), lifestyle and stress from a high pressured job in the City.  However, once I started to explore alternative therapies and a different lifestyle this all became manageable and achievable and I would never change a thing about my journey and my experiences.  Without this, I would never have become an alternative therapist and be able to help the amount of people that are experiencing exactly what I did – you can’t ask for a better job than that.

Melanie Hackwell is a mother of 2 children and an acupuncturist specialising in fertility and practices in Balham, West End and Stratford.

Melanie also provides acupuncture support to Concept Fertility in Wandsworth and has also produced a visualisation meditation app Baby In Mind, available on The App Store and Google Store.

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