Anxiety and Infertility

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1 in 8 couples struggle with infertility. Infertility is a disease that carries a lot of stigma. If you are going through infertility, it is common that you may be feeling: shame, loss of control, detached from your body, sad, angry, emotional, depressed, and even anxious.

Anxiety is common when going through infertility.

In Rewiring your Anxious Brain, by Catherine M. Pittman, PHD and Elizabeth M. Karle, MILS, you learn that anxiety can come from the cortex or the amygdala. The anxiety that develops in the cortex, is the anxiety that you interpret; the “what ifs”. What if you never get pregnant? What if you never become a parent? What if you do get pregnant and lose the baby? What if infertility ruins your relationship?

In addition, these thoughts are usually accompanied by physiological symptoms. This is anxiety that comes from the amygdala. Anxiety that comes from the amygdala is the physical sensations and anxiety of past experiences. This type of anxiety contains the triggers and associations. Examples include feeling anxious every time you see a pregnancy test because it was negative before and that caused anxiety. Also, anxiety about going to the doctors office because the last time you were there you got bad news.

Anxiety symptoms can include, but are not limited to, racing thoughts, rapid heartbeat, sweaty or clammy hands, upset stomach or butterflies, tight muscles, inability to focus, feeling lightheaded, and dizziness. Everyone experiences anxiety, as it is our body’s coping mechanism for danger. It is when there is no danger and our body still goes into the fight/flight/freeze mode that it starts impacting our functioning in life and becomes an anxiety disorder.

Stress is a common trigger for anxiety. If you are going through infertility this can be a stressful time in your life. Infertility treatments can also be emotionally and physically stressful. If you are feeling anxious you do not have to let it control you.

Here are some ways to deal with your anxiety:

  1. Exercise - When you exercise you can lower the baseline for your anxiety so that it doesn’t peak every time you start to notice your symptoms of anxiety. Exercise is also great when you are feeling anxious. When your body goes into fight, flight or freeze mode your body sends energy to the parts of the body that you need to either fight or flee, when you exercise you can use up that excess energy allowing your body to get the message that you are no longer in danger.

  2. Breath - If you are feeling anxious one of the best things that you can do is start to take some deep breaths and start to notice your breath. When your body is in the fight or flight mode our breathing becomes quicker to get more oxygen into the parts of our body preparing to fight or flee. When you start to slow down your breath your body gets the message that you are no longer in danger.

  3. Take charge of what you are in control of - If you are going through infertility, it can be easy to feel out of control. Write down your anxious thoughts. In one column, put those thoughts that you have control over. In the other column, put those thoughts that you do not have control over. Take the list that you have control over and work on those things. Rip up the other list.

  4. Say no - It can be very difficult some days to be facing infertility. You do not have to go to every baby shower or every kid’s birthday party. You do not have to join in on every holiday. You get to decide what you can handle that day. You do not have to listen to people’s advice or tips on how they got pregnant. It is okay to say no and to set boundaries.

  5. Be kind to yourself - Going through infertility is not easy. It is very important that you treat yourself kindly through the process-self affirmations, self care, mediation, support groups, counseling. These are all great ways to show yourself kindness through this difficult journey.

    If you are struggling with infertility and anxiety you are not alone. Please contact Kull Counseling, LLC to learn more about coping with anxiety during infertility. 608.239.4807 or julie@kullcounselingmadison.com

How to support someone suffering from anxiety

Anxiety is our body's natural response to a perceived threat. We all experience anxiety now and again when dealing with the stressors of life. However, many people experience such severe anxiety that it interferes with daily life and makes it extremely difficult to perform at work, maintain relationships; or start/finish tasks.   

The following highlights some common signs of anxiety and some questions to ask yourself to determine if your friend, family or loved one may be exhibiting those signs.

Common signs and questions to ask yourself to determine if a loved one has anxiety

1. Worry - Do they worry a lot? Do they worry about things they have little control over? Are they uncomfortable in situations that they cannot control?

2. Irritability - Do they feel keyed up, sometimes on edge?

3. Stress - Do they have a hard time feeling calm or an inability to relax?

4. Rumination - Do they have a hard time letting go of things- ruminating on something that was said or done a while after the incident occurred.

5. Negative thinking - Does this person have a lot of negative self talk or view of the world?

If these symptoms sound familiar, your loved one might be suffering from anxiety. The good news is you can help! Below are several Important tips to being a helpful and supportive ally, including several things to avoid when trying to support someone with anxiety:

1. Be a support person. Let this person talk to you about their feelings and emotions. Try not to judge what they are saying. 

2. Learn about about anxiety. The more you know the more you can be supportive. If you find anxiety frustrating, imagine how this person might feel. Think about a time when you felt anxious and how that felt. Imagine feeling that way every day or for prolonged periods of time.

3. Encourage the positives. Suggest positive coping skills such as: regular exercise, meditation, mindfulness, balanced nutrition, avoidance of caffeine and alcohol. Reinforce rational thinking and  help them try to avoid thoughts that are irrational.

Are you worried you may say the wrong thing? To help guide your conversation below are some hurtful phrases along with some more encouraging ones.

Hurtful-

"You should try to relax." "Don't worry about it." "Please try to calm down."

Helpful-

"How can I help?" "I am here to talk if you need someone." "I noticed that you did x even though you were really worried about it, I am proud of you."

Lastly, don’t be afraid to reach out because you won’t say the ‘right” thing. By talking to someone who is struggling with anxiety, you are already taking an important first step in making them feel heard, supported, and understood.

If someone you love is suffering from anxiety and needs help please contact Kull Counseling, LLC at 608.239.4807 or julie@kullcounselingmadison.com.