Welcome to Mental Health Week! There is a close connection between our mental wellbeing and our physical health. Acute stress can be beneficial for us physically, heightening our brain function, boosting our immune system and helping us to build resilience.
On the other hand, chronic stress may have negative consequences for our health and wellbeing, and this includes our fertility.
The stress that comes with infertility and undergoing assisted reproductive treatment can be equivalent to that of someone dealing with cancer or heart disease (Domar et al, 1993). Yep - infertility takes a real toll on us.
Read on for our top three strategies to manage your mental health when dealing with infertility.
Be Proactive in Seeking Support
You may be a seasoned infertility warrior or new to the world of fertility treatments, but this tip applies equally – seek professional psychological support. The majority of fertility clinics in Australia recognise the importance of maintaining or enhancing mental wellbeing during the fertility journey and provide access to this support during treatment cycles.
As an integral component of optimising fertility we have our fertility Psychologist, Alisha Polsen at The IVF Project.
When going through treatment it is a case of when you may experience mental health impacts rather than if you will experience them. Some level of stress and / or anxiety was reported by 72% of couples undergoing IVF.
Pre-empt that the process may bring challenges and employ constructive coping strategies, before you find that your health is suffering. A Psychologist with expertise in fertility will help:
Not only will you keep your mental health on track but interventions designed to reduce psychological distress may increase pregnancy rates. Out of 10 interventions where pregnancy rate was measured, getting support from a Psychologist doubled the chance of pregnancy (Frederiksen et al, 2015).
Reducing stress by learning the tools of mindfulness from a Psychologist has been shown to benefit mental health, helping with emotional regulation and reducing passive-avoidance coping strategies. A bonus is better sleep quality too which benefits fertility.
Food For Your Mood
Certain foods and key nutrients can lift your mood. Have you ever eaten lots of processed foods and sugar and felt really blah? Well, there is a science to explain how food can influence your mood.
Our gut talks to our brain so keeping our gut bacteria fuelled with prebiotic foods is a great step to boosting out mental wellbeing. Getting microbiota accessible carbohydrates and key gut loving nutrients into your diet has been shown to improve brain health and reduce depression (Dingeo et al., 2020).
Certain strains of bacteria have been shown to reduced anxiety- and depression-like behaviour and the gut microbiome can shape how our brain functions, even altering neurotransmitter production.
An imbalance, or dysbiosis, of the populations living in the gut can impact our brain and our behaviour. Nurturing our gut microbiome for enhanced diversity can provide many benefits for your mental wellbeing.
What we eat can promote a diverse microbiota for better mental health. Looking to build resilience? Want to reduce the anxiety and stress around trying to conceive? Optimal nutrition to fuel your gut diversity will help build resilience and reduce anxiety, while boosting your fertility!
The right exercise prescription can increase your resilience, reduce depression and anxiety, help manage your mood and help you sleep instead of worrying about all the things that could keep you up at night. All of these benefits are great for you – but also for your assisted reproductive treatment!
Engaging in regular exercise has been shown to increase your ability to bounce back from a stressful situation and to limit how much stress you experience. This is so important for riding the rollercoaster of fertility treatments. If I did not have the opportunity to exercise during my treatment there is no way I would have been able to handle multiple cycles and pick myself up after a negative pregnancy test. Exercise was such an important tool to manage the stresses of all the poking and prodding and waiting, and to ensure quality eggs and uterine receptivity.
Exercise is also a powerful antidepressant, thanks in part to increases in brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) that is released with exercise. Getting the right balance of aerobic and strength training will also improve the diversity of our gut friends for optimal mental health and fertility outcomes. Exercise can increase the proportion of beneficial bacteria living in our gut, increasing the incredible short chain fatty acids that promote health and fertility.
When comparing the gut microbiome of women who did not meet the guidelines for minimum physical activity and those that exercised at least 3 hours per week, women that exercised had a greater abundance of health-promoting bacterial species, including Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, Roseburia hominis and Akkermansia muciniphila (Bressa et al., 2017).
Have you moved your body today?
Investing in Your Mental Health is an Investment in Your Fertility
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. If you are dealing with infertility, make a plan to access the best support so you can have the best outcomes!
Bressa, C. et al (2017) PLoS One. Differences in gut microbiota profile between women with active lifestyle and sedentary women. 10;12(2).
Dingeo, G. et al (2020) Food Func. Phytochemicals as modifiers of gut microbial communities. Ahead of Print.
Domar, A. et al (1993) J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol. The psychological impact of infertility: a comparison with patients with other medical conditions. 14 Suppl:45-52.
Frederiksen, Y. et al (2015) BMJ Open. Efficacy of psychosocial interventions for psychological and pregnancy outcomes in infertile women and men: a systematic review and meta-analysis. 5:e006592.