There's no doubt that undergoing treatment for infertility—or even just considering treatment—can be overwhelmingly stressful for women. But an increasing amount of evidence shows one thing: taking steps to reduce this stress may have a positive impact on how successful fertility treatments are, specifically a woman's of getting pregnant through IVF. Need proof? In one study on the subject, researchers found that women who participated in a mind/body program for stress reduction while undergoing IVF treatment had a significantly higher pregnancy rate than those who did not—a whopping 52 percent of women who reduced stress became pregnant versus 20 percent of women who did not receive any help for stress.
What's going on here? "The intersection of stress and fertility is a controversial one, but we do know that stress can reduce the probability of conception," says principal investigator Dr. Alice Domar, OB-GYN, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health at Boston IVF. In the study, researchers worked with a small group, about a 100 women total, so "we'll need to continue with a larger group of patients to see if the results bear out," says Dr. Domar. But she and her fellow researchers are confident that further studies will bear out that stress levels and IVF outcomes are linked and that mind/body therapies can help.
If you describe yourself as "stressed out" most of the time, try to find out why. Write down everything that's bothering you and then look back at the list to see what patterns emerge. Is not having a baby what's causing you anxiety? Is it your job? Money? Your spouse? Your family? Spend some time rainstorming solutions—and then actually carry through, doing things like finally calling those credit card companies to lower your interest rates. Once you've reduced some of the stressors, see what's left.
Anxiety-producing events and circumstances may go beyond well-meaning advice to "just breathe" and seeking professional help will be necessary. Working with a good therapist can give you a little perspective and practical tools (visualization, meditation, etc.) that you can use the next time it feels like your head is going to explode. If you are considering IVF or another fertility treatment, ask the therapist for a referral or information about mind/body support groups in your area that are just for women trying to overcome infertility.