Syncing mind and body: Mental and physical wellness to help achieve your fertility goal
“It’s all in your head. Just keep trying, and you will conceive.” “Just relax and stop thinking about it, and you will get pregnant!” You have probably heard this a million times, and part of you just wants to say, “I can’t relax when everyone around me is popping out babies!”
Believe it or not, there might be some truth to these “relax and take it easy” comments!
While modern reproductive medicine has advanced to the point of being able to create embryos outside the body to produce a healthy pregnancy, we still have not found a great way to control and reduce the stress that all infertility patients face when they are going through cycle after cycle of infertility treatment.
That’s where mind-body wellness can play a significant role. You might think, “I’m way too busy running in and out of the clinic, managing my injections and trying to maintain my job. How will I ever have time to keep my mind in shape.” But this is just as important! Research also shows that a happy mind leads to a more successful chance at having a baby. Integrating mind-body techniques during fertility treatment can not only make the situation less stressful, but can also improve outcomes.
Amira Posner, a clinical social worker from Healing Infertility who specializes in mind-body wellness for infertility, offers her advice on how to successfully navigate infertility while treating both the mind and the body. Here are some techniques available to patients to help them on their fertility journey.
The term mindfulness is all over the Internet, in our yoga practices and in meditation apps. But what really is mindfulness, and can it be applied in our day-to-day life, particularly during stressful times — for example, when dealing with infertility? The rigour of infertility treatments, with the frequent clinic visits, numerous injections and hormonal side effects, can be tough to handle and can certainly cause stress. Being mindful can ease this tension and make the journey more relaxed and perhaps even enjoyable!
Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing our attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgment. With over 70,000 thoughts a day, our minds are surely busy. It’s important to notice that not all of our thoughts are true, and many tend to be repetitive. Mindfulness brings us back to the present in an accepting way. We can do anything mindfully, as long as we use our full attention. When thoughts interrupt our focus, we gently label them, let them go and return back to the present.
Hypnotherapy is a way to connect with a deeper part of subconsciousness, changing deep-rooted patterns that could perhaps be related to fertility concerns and issues. Changing these patterns can improve fertility outcomes and ease the emotional burden of infertility.
Hypnotherapy is a therapeutic technique that can be achieved on your own through self-hypnosis or by listening to a guide or audio track. Hypnotherapy can be used at any stage of the fertility journey. Scientific studies have documented successful use of hypnotherapy for women undergoing IVF. Through the hypnosis process, our subconscious mind opens to alternate suggestions and ideas, changing the neural network.
Cognitive restructuring is a tool that can be used to address the negative thinking that often comes up during fertility treatment. For some patients, many of these thoughts focus on whether treatment will work, or on what has gone wrong if it didn’t. It’s not unusual for patients to blame themselves or to feel negative after failed cycles. Cognitive restructuring helps to deconstruct and better understand negative thoughts. It allows for a reshaping of language and meaning, creating room for a more balanced perspective.
By transforming negative thoughts into something more affirming, patients can feel more in control of themselves and their experience and can, ultimately, approach fertility treatment with more resilience.
The relaxation response
The relaxation response was developed by mind-body medicine pioneer Dr. Herbert Benson. This technique consists of using the breath and attention to alter the way the body responds to physical and emotional stress. The relaxation response encourages the body to return to a state of relaxation, away from the heightened arousal brought upon by the stresses of infertility. It activates the para-sympathetic nervous system, releasing calming hormones that allow the body and its inner organs to slow down, rest and rejuvenate.
Laughter yoga is a unique exercise routine that combines unconditional laughter with breathing techniques. The idea is simply that laughter is the best medicine. Also, laughter is contagious. Laughter yoga begins by superimposing laughter through games that lead to authentic laughter. Forty-five minutes later, you’ll have forgetten was what so funny but have been laughing the whole time and feeling energized, relaxed and present. Laughter yoga also strengthens the immune system.
We definitely know that it takes a healthy egg, sperm and uterus to make a baby, but a resilient mindset is just as important. These five mind-body techniques promote a routine of self-care and nurturing that enhance physical and emotional balance, ultimately leading to a more successful outcome.