Siobhan O Neill investigates how linking the wellbeing of body and mind may well mean pampering before Pampers…
Making babies. It sounds so easy. And some people fall pregnant as quickly as falling off that proverbial log. But for many it s not so simple. The monthly disappointments that accompany that not pregnant symbol on the test quickly take their toll, and it seems as though the more you want it, the further it feels from reach. Each new disappointment isn t an isolated event that you can quickly shrug off. They accumulate, piling hurt upon hurt.
And then comes all that really useful advice: just relax! , it ll happen when you least expect it! You smile politely while fighting the urge to scream at the top of your lungs.
But that repressed scream is something you really shouldn t ignore. While doctors concentrate on the physical aspects of the problems couples have conceiving, your emotional and mental health should be treated separately, and with (at very least) equal importance.
Even without the added strain of trying to conceive, we live and work in a high stress environment. Anxiety, pressure, tension. Every day we re used to accepting and dealing with it as best we can, but the affect of stress on our health should not be underestimated.
Indeed, a new study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility has found that women who are anxious are 12% less likely to conceive during their fertile time than those who stay calm. The study of 274 of the age range 18 to 40 years, and all planning pregnancy, found that stress significantly reduced the probability of conception during each day during the fertile window.
People have no idea how stressed they are until they stop, says Lisa Whitehead, an holistic therapist specialising in fertility and positivity coaching. They re not aware of how much pressure they re putting on themselves, and often it s issues they re not even conscious of.
Until recently, Lisa ran a national award winning holistic clinic which was named the best holistic centre in the UK. Now, she works with the online Getalife UK team, and also operates privately offering reflexology and other treatments to women experiencing stress, anxiety and depression, as well as issues associated with fertility and birth. For those conception woes something she prefers to call sub-fertility, rather than infertility she likes to liaise primarily with couples, focusing predominantly on their emotional and mental wellbeing.
It s mind, body and spirit, she says. We can balance the body physically, but more often than not the reasons couples are not falling pregnant is down to emotional blocks, stress and anxiety. It can be issues they re not even conscious of, from a deep subconscious fear of falling pregnant, to issues associated with the relationship they had with their own mother. You hold so much memory inside you and it affects the way you feel about yourself, she says.
I mirror back to people the negative language they use to describe themselves. I say be careful what you say because your body is listening and just small shifts in the way they talk and think about themselves can make a huge difference.
Lisa points out that everyday stresses tend to manifest themselves as a physical response in the body. Whether it s a migraine, a stiff elbow or a bad back reminding you that you feel as if you re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, the effects of stress can equally manifest in fertility issues. Learning to properly relax and remove those pressures from your core can make a dramatic difference to a couple s success rate. And it s particularly important for men to acknowledge and discuss their feelings.
They re putting so much pressure on themselves it really affects the quality of their sperm, explains Lisa, who says that if couples are going to go down the road of exploring their emotional and mental wellbeing they may have to be prepared to face issues they do not normally like to give voice to.
They don t want to talk about these things, she says, Especially men, because there is the notion that having fertility issues imply an admission of failure. That can be tough, because they tend to go inside themselves and may be feeling they re not a proper man. These concerns and anxieties that we prefer to brush under the carpet undoubtedly bring separation to a couple s working mechanism, and at a time when they most need to be pulling together. Coupled with sex becoming more clinical and less intimate it s no wonder that conception seems to become more distant the longer it continues.
Lisa says she works with couples helping them to relieve that pressure and get the fun back into love making. And she s noted an 85% success rate in couples going down this route, even when they have diagnosed physical issues causing sub-fertility. She says there s a step-by-step approach couples can take to help themselves.
There are practical things you can do that will really help, she says. Take time for yourself, not just each other, look after your diet, and get plenty of rest. There are sensible steps like cutting out alcohol and tobacco, but also balancing of mind, body and spirit is going to help. Take up relaxation activities, go for a walk or a swim or try yoga, she suggests.
The changes she sees in couples who ve learned to address their stresses can be dramatic, not least because it s handing the control of the situation back to those who ve felt as if they have no control over what s happening to them. They feel like they re owning it again, says Lisa, they re creating the opportunities .
Nutritionist and psychologist Dr Marilyn Glenville agrees that people under stress will adversely affect their ability to get pregnant. Her focus is on diet and nutrition and she says, When people are under a lot of stress, that in itself will increase the need for certain nutrients. I take a whole look at what s going on with their lifestyle smoking, exercise, everything and we consider lots of factors in combinations working positively or negatively on hormones and other fertility features.
Fertility or infertility is stressful in itself, and trying to fit in an IVF cycle with appointments and so on whilst maybe not talking to people at work or loved ones about it makes the whole thing something that s not at all easy to juggle. But nutrients can combat the stress effect, she says, and it s crucial because stress dampens libido, and for some women it can have a physical effect on their cycle.
Dr Glenville says couples shouldn’t be afraid to look to their emotional and mental health when getting to the bottom of fertility problems. That emotional side is important and it s not as easy to address as physical issues, she says. It s much more elusive and is often the last on the list to be looked at.
She believes couples should take time to work on relaxing, and suggests a range of exercises and therapies that apply techniques that will have a stress-busting effect.
Dr Glenville says it s no coincidence that couples who ve been trying a long time will suddenly fall pregnant when they go on holiday, or that we often hear those anecdotes about the couple who stopped trying and started the adoption process only to conceive out of the blue. The letting go of pressure and stress is what makes the difference, she says.