Studies show that infertility is linked to stress and depression. One study found that 80% of women who experience infertility issues suffer from stress specific to their infertility.1 While there are many factors that lead to this stress, including age at diagnosis, duration of infertility, and lack of social support, it seems that the longer a woman experiences infertility, the more severe her stress and depression become.1 Women who experience long-term stress and who do not have effective coping skills or support are also more likely to experience other behavioral health issues, such as anxiety and body-image issues.1
Infertility & depression
Women with fertility issues often experience depression, but they also may not seek treatment due to the depression that infertility causes.2 Researchers at the University of North Carolina noticed that only a third of women who screened positive for depression would go on to continue their fertility treatments.2 These researchers also recognized that this trend may be partially due to the stress that the fertility treatments can cause. The researchers further noted that couples seeking fertility treatments reported feeling isolated from friends and family, which could be adding to their stress and depression.2
Infertility & grief
Individuals going through fertility treatments may also suffer from a feeling of grief.3 Couples often experience grief when they first learn of their infertility issues, and again if they have a failed IVF experience.1,3 The grief that is experienced after failed IVF can be similar to the grief parents experience when they lose a child.3 Many women also experience stress after a failed IVF cycle, because they are conflicted about continuing treatment, as the emotional toll can be greater than expected.3
Infertility & stress
There are often multiple sources of stress around infertility and continued infertility. Couples may notice that their relationship and their relationships with their support system suffer.4 Some women may experience emotional side effects from their fertility medications.4 Couples may begin to experience financial stress, especially if fertility treatments are not covered by health insurance.4 Additionally, women who have had prior experience with depression and anxiety may find that the stress related to infertility can cause these issues to resurface.4
So, how can you manage the emotional challenges of infertility?
There are many researchers that recommend that you seek counseling before you even start treatments.3 Counselors can be a listening ear, give you unbiased opinions, and teach you tools to manage stress in a healthy way. Counselors can help you feel supported, and help you to find ways to talk to your support system about your struggles with infertility. If your insurance doesn’t cover a counselor, check if your employer has an Employee Assistance Program. These will usually cover a few counseling sessions at little to no cost.1,3,4
Try relaxation techniques
Mindfulness and meditation are both great ways to help relieve feelings of stress. There are many guided mediation apps that are available for free or a small fee through your smartphone. Yoga is also an excellent source of stress relief, and exercise. Exercise can help increase endorphins; the chemicals in your body that are responsible for making you feel good.4,5
Acknowledge your feelings
Give yourself permission to be sad, stressed, and drained. This is a normal reaction to the situation that you are in. You are allowed to cry and grieve and be angry. Sometimes, we feel pressured to try to be positive in a bad situation, when in all actuality, it is okay to be not okay.6,7
Stay connected to your support network
Communicate with your family and friends. Let them know what you are going through, and ask them for help when you are down. You may need to educate them about infertility, and you may need to tell them what you need from them, but your support network is there to help you through tough times. Let your partner, family, and friends know if you feel isolated, and ask for their help in staying connected.3,6,7
Journals are always there to listen to what you have to say, and never try to give you any well-meaning, though sometimes frustrating, advice in return. They can also be excellent tools for gaining insight to your own patterns of thoughts and feelings.5,6
Get off the computer, and off social media. Social media can leave you feeling empty, uncomfortable, and even jealous. Take a break from it, and if you can, give yourself a break from the everyday stresses of life. A getaway, even if it is just for the weekend, can help you relax and give you new perspective.5
Adopt a furry friend
No, a pet is not a substitute for a baby. A pet is, however, a great source of stress relief, a face that is always happy to see you when you get home, an excuse to exercise, and trusted confidant. Pets can be a welcome distraction from the stress of infertility, and can bring you so much joy. If you don’t feel that adopting a pet is good idea, think about volunteering at your local animal shelter. Volunteering has also been shown to lower levels of depression and increase your sense of well being! 5
Patel A, Sharma P, Narayan P, Binu V, Dinesh N, Pai P. Prevalence and predictors of infertility-specific stress in women diagnosed with primary infertility: A clinic-based study. J Hum Reprod Sci. 2016;9(1):28. doi:10.4103/0974-1208.178630
Lehman S. Depression may prevent infertile women from seeking treatment. U.S. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-infertility-depression/depression-may-prevent-infertile-women-from-seeking-treatment-idUSKBN15428F. Published 2018. Accessed September 30, 2018.
LUKSE M, VACC N. Grief, Depression, and Coping in Women Undergoing Infertility Treatment. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 1999;93(2):245-251. doi:10.1097/00006250-199902000-00017
Publishing H. The psychological impact of infertility and its treatment - Harvard Health. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/The-psychological-impact-of-infertility-and-its-treatment. Published 2018. Accessed September 30, 2018.
Human H. 11 Awesome Ways to Relieve Infertility Stress. HuffPost. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/heather-huhman/11-awesome-ways-to-relieve-infertility-stress_b_7577438.html. Published 2018. Accessed September 30, 2018.
Coping with the Stress of Infertility. Parents.com. https://www.parents.com/getting-pregnant/infertility/causes/coping-with-the-stress-of-infertility/. Published 2018. Accessed September 30, 2018.
Coping Techniques - RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. https://resolve.org/support/managing-infertility-stress/coping-techniques/. Published 2018. Accessed September 30, 2018.