At the start of World Wellbeing Week, RHG-IVF Life fertility counselling partner Jamie Forster gives us a ‘head’ start on the effect of our emotional health on our fertility. Whether you’re at the start of your IVF journey, or beginning another ICSI cycle, considering your wellbeing is vital to your treatment success.
Stress is something that affects us all from time to time. There has been so much focus in the media about how it can appear physically, emotionally, and in the way we think and behave. From headaches, poor mood or sleep quality, to high blood pressure and panic attacks, managing excessive stress in our busy lives is something we all must think about. Except sometimes it is simply not possible to avoid the stress in our lives. This is particularly true for people undergoing fertility treatment which can be an exceptionally tense experience. So how do we improve our fertility emotional health?
Calming the rollercoaster
Balancing everyday life and the demands of treatment, while managing the rollercoaster of emotion associated with treatment can be very challenging. This is why it is so important to pay close attention to your own personal wellbeing, both emotionally and physically.
The great news is there are many things you can do to boost fertility wellbeing and build strength during fertility treatment. The key is to apply good self-care routines and practices. Having a strong self-care plan is the most valuable thing you can do for yourself in life, in or out of treatment.
What is self-care?
The World Health Organization defines self-care as ‘the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider’.
By this, self-care not only promotes positive health, but helps build the strength necessary to manage stress and live a longer and happier life!
So why is it, when we find ourselves in a difficult or stressful situation, are we so quick to criticise ourselves? Why is our self-talk so negatively? Why are we so quick to ignore the physical and emotional needs of our bodies? Why do we continue to punish ourselves?
Please take a moment to imagine the person you love the most in life sitting in front of you, suffering in some way that is familiar to you. Think about how you would care for and soothe them. You might lower your tone, speak softly, telling them that it is going to be ok. Perhaps you would make them a cup of tea and give them all the reasons why they are amazing and going to get through this difficult time. Maybe you would run them a bath, make them a nice meal, or just sit quietly next to them holding their hand, giving them time and space to process these difficult emotions.
Now, imagine yourself experiencing the same suffering. Think about using the same comforting techniques you used above, to soothe and reassure yourself. What if your self-talk was soft, comforting, and encouraging? How good could it feel to respond to your own needs as lovingly as you would someone you love dearly?
How much easier could difficult times be if you allowed yourself to take a break and feel all the feelings, rather than ignore or deny them?
This is self-care.
Self-care in practice
Self-care is about listening to your body, tuning into your feelings, and giving yourself permission to respond to your own needs. It is about taking responsibility for your own wellbeing with respect and compassion for the emotional changes that are a natural part of treatment. This is your fertility wellbeing.
Often, we hear people say, ‘I have no time for self-care’, or ‘I’m just too busy’. But the truth is that self-care is not just bubble baths, holidays, and longs weekends away. It is as easy as pausing during your busy day, to focus on breathing for two minutes.
Self-care is the act of doing something that contributes to your emotional, psychological, and physical health, creating a sense of balance and overall wellbeing.
Let us have a look at examples of each.
Very simply, emotions are the physiological response to internal or external influences. We often think that emotions are processed in the brain, by thinking or talking, but the truth is, emotions are processed in the whole body.
So emotional self-care is anything that you can do to quiet the noise in your head and stop overthinking and overstimulating yourself.
Techniques for healthy emotional management might look like…
- give yourself permission to say no to things that cause you stress. It is ok to say no to an invitation to a party or event that is going to cause you distress
- allow yourself to take breaks or pause throughout the day is going to help you stay clearheaded. We wear busy like a badge of honour, but this constant ‘going’ can have a negative affect on your ability to self-regulate your emotions
- take a break or limit your use of social media can help you stay in control of the external forces that contribute to your overall mood
- limit how much news you consume can help you feel grounded, in control, and will help maintain a positive outlook on life in general
- have realistic expectations of your time and emotional capacity (you can do it all just not at the same time!)
Mental wellbeing is all about connection, self-belief, purpose and building resilience. Good mental health is what allows us to cope with the stress of life. It is particularly important during treatment. We sometimes hear patients talking about feelings of loneliness, disconnectedness, or frustration. So, anything that you can do to help build yourself up from the inside out is going to help you get through IVF treatment well.
Cultivating healthy mental habits is something that gathers over time and is necessary to create and maintain a positive outlook on life.
By this definition, self-care for mental wellbeing is going to be something that can be included in daily life, whether you are feeling strong or fragile. This can only be good for your fertility wellbeing.
Some techniques for promoting strong mental health might look like…
- mindfulness or meditation which helps you become aware of the present moment. It helps integrate thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations
- ‘gratitude journaling’ helps you focus in on the good things in life, which is particularly positive at a time when you are feeling overwhelmed or out of control
- journaling is an excellent tool to help release ruminating or intrusive thoughts, and keeps things from building up and getting on top of you
- practicing kindness (with self and others) is choosing to go a bit ‘out of your way’ to do something good for yourself or others. Research shows a clear link between showing kindness and reduction in stress and improvement in overall wellbeing
- spending time in nature is vital for promoting mental and physical wellbeing. Walk, garden, or spend time near water or green spaces – they’re all hugely beneficial for mental health
Physical wellbeing is not just the absence of disease or illness. It is about lifestyle and behavioural choices that help maintain an overall sense of balance which drastically affects wellbeing. Being active, eating a healthy diet, and staying hydrated will significantly improve your quality of life, both mentally and physically.
In fact, fertility treatment is a very physical and emotional experience, so anything that can be done to ensure your body has what it needs to get through treatment well, is essential.
The most important things you can do to manage your physical health are…
- eat a well-balanced diet to provide you with energy and give you all the nutrients necessary for protection and repair
- stay well hydrated to improve mental function, provide energy, and help flush toxins from your body
- exercise improves sleep, helps alleviate anxiety, reduces the risk of depression, and helps you feel better about yourself
- rest is vital to restoration and healing for your body and mind
- mindful living is also a wonderful way to take care of physical health. It is as easy as stepping away from your desk to eat lunch or taking regular screen breaks throughout the day
Wellbeing and fertility treatment
The truth is that fertility treatment is an exciting experience, full of ups downs, twists and turns. Organisations such as the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA), British Fertility Society (BFS), and the British Infertility Counselling Association (BICA) work tirelessly to ensure that the emotional and physical wellbeing of patients is vital to safe and effective treatment. They all agree that treatment can be a complicated process for patients and that clinics have a responsibility to patients to ensure they get through it well.
At RHG-IVF Life, we take the emotional health and wellbeing of our patients very seriously. As part of our responsibility towards our patients we offer free counselling sessions during treatment. In addition, our staff are always available to answer patients’ questions or offer support. Your wellbeing before, during, and after treatment is very important us and we are here to support individuals and couples at every stage of your fertility journey.