by Alice D. Domar, PhD
Listening to comments from some friends, relatives and even medical personnel, you might conclude that all you need to do to conceive is "Just relax," "Don't try so hard," "Go on vacation" or the all-time favorite, "Just adopt." But for the vast majority of couples struggling with infertility, this is not sound advice.
While stress does not cause infertility, infertility most definitely causes stress. Infertile women report higher levels of stress and anxiety than fertile women, and there is some indication that infertile women are more likely to become depressed. This is not surprising since the far-reaching effects of infertility can interfere with work, family, money and sex. Finding ways to reduce stress, tension and anxiety can make you feel better.
There are numerous methods for decreasing stress, including learning relaxation techniques and stress management strategies, taking a good look at your eating and exercise habits, and remembering how to be good to yourself. Before trying any of these techniques, however, check with your doctor to be sure they are appropriate for you and will not interfere with your treatment.
The relaxation response is a state of deep rest. This is the direct opposite of the fight-or-flight response, the physical response to danger. When one is frightened or threatened, the body releases adrenalin, causing blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rates to increase. These changes allow one either to fight harder against the danger or run faster away from it. However, our bodies and minds cannot discriminate between physical danger and psychological stress; thus, we also experience the fight-or-flight response when we are stressed.
When you elicit the relaxation response, your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rates decrease. You feel more relaxed and less anxious. Individuals who elicit the relaxation response on a regular basis report that they not only feel more relaxed and less anxious during the actual relaxation, but also feel calmer throughout the day. Those who elicit the relaxation response during medical procedures report less anxiety, pain and medication use.
You can elicit the relaxation response through a wide variety of relaxation techniques, including progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, meditation and imagery.
Progressive muscle relaxation involves progressively tightening and then relaxing your muscles, either from head to toe or vice versa.
Deep breathing involves breathing slowly from your belly, like sighing deeply.
Meditation requires focusing on a word or phrase as you breathe. And imagery can mean a variety of things, ranging from imagining a pleasant safe spot to focusing on your body.
There are several books that provide instructions, including The Relaxation Response and Beyond the Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson, MD. You can also call your local academic medical center to find out about qualified professionals in your area who are familiar with relaxation response training. In addition, most bookstores carry numerous relaxation response tapes. Again, check first with your doctor before you start any of these techniques.