Your mental health impacts how your body functions. Short term stress can be beneficial for heightening your brain function, mounting immune responses to fight off colds and flu and to help you build resilience. It promotes positive adaptations.
On the other hand, chronic stress can have negative consequences for your health and wellbeing, including your fertility.
Psychosocial interventions to reduce stress and support individuals through fertility treatment have been found to double the chance of pregnancy (19). Let’s look at a practice that may help bring you calm, and support balance for a positive mind body connection.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is “paying attention to the present moment with openness, curiosity and without judgement” (1).
Mindful awareness allows thoughts and experiences, often viewed through the lens of our opinions, preferences, and judgments, to simply be there. Some benefits of practising mindful awareness include:
his all sounds very nice, I hear you say, but what does this have to do fertility?
Mindfulness Benefits Fertility and IVF
Dealing with infertility brings emotional and physical challenges. Mindfulness can help foster mental and emotional resilience, helping us to cope with feelings of anxiety, depression, distress, and worry (10).
Research shows a correlation between mindfulness-based therapies and quality of life among women experiencing infertility (11-13), as well reduced rates of psychological distress, anxiety, and depression (13, 14).
Li and colleagues (10) found that women who received mindfulness-based interventions alongside IVF treatments reported increased quality of life, self-compassion, and coping strategies for stress. They also found that these women had greater pregnancy rates compared to the group of women who did not receive the mindfulness-based intervention.
How Do I Practice Mindfulness?
There are two main types of mindfulness practice: formal mindfulness and informal mindfulness.
Formal mindfulness meditation involves sitting or lying, with eyes closed, focusing the attention on one single thing. This could be the sensation of breathing, or focusing on sensations within the body (1).
Daily formal mindfulness meditation has been correlated with decreased depression scores and enhanced sleep quality of women undergoing infertility treatments (15). Mindfulness apps, such as Smiling Mind, make it accessible to cultivate a regular mindful practice, offering free guided meditations that you can listen to at a time and place that suits you.
You can also learn mindfulness from therapists trained in mindfulness-based therapies or attend classes where you can learn mindfulness practices as part of a group.
As with any skill, the more we practice mindfulness the more automatic it becomes. Informal mindfulness is about bringing the same level of focus and attention of formal mindfulness to aspects of your everyday life (1).
That is, directing full, non-judgmental curiosity and attention to whatever it is you are doing in the present moment – be this commuting to work, vacuuming the house, eating, etc. Bringing mindful awareness to mealtimes can be a great way to cultivate regular mindful practice, providing opportunities to connect with your body and experience more deeply the sensory pleasure of appetite and eating.
This increased attunement to the body puts us in a better position to nourish our body in a way that is aligned with what it needs in that moment. Because eating includes all 5 of our senses – seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, and hearing – it is a sensory rich context for focusing the attention.
Next time you are eating a food, try bringing attention to how the food looks (colours, textures, shape), smells, the sound of picking it up with your utensil, and the mouth feel. Notice, without judgment, your response to the food, and how it feels in your body. Bring awareness to how this eating experience differs from the experience of, say, eating your lunch while checking your email, or snacking while in the car? Does your level of satisfaction improve?
Yoga and Fertility
Yoga is a form of physical movement that marries up formal and informal mindfulness; the physical postures and breathing techniques of yoga are designed to bring mindful awareness to the body.
A recent review found that anxiety scores were improved by yoga as an adjuvant during infertility treatment (16). Gaitzsch et al (17) also conducted a review of studies exploring the effectiveness of mind-body therapies (yoga and mindfulness-based therapies) during infertility treatment and found associations with lower anxiety and depression scores.
Ready to Nurture Your Mind and Body?
Cultivating a practice of mindfulness can help build resilience to life stress and enhance fulfilment in everyday experiences. Research suggests that incorporating mindfulness into your fertility journey can help reduce anxiety, depression, and distress, while also helping improve sleep and quality of life.
If you would like to know more about incorporating mindful awareness in your everyday life, we would love to support you at The IVF Project.
1. Smiling Mind (2022) What is mindfulness? https://www.smilingmind.com.au/mindfulness.
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3. Lancaster, S., Klein, L., & Knightly, K. (2016). Mindfulness and Relaxation: a Comparison of Brief, Laboratory-Based Interventions. Mindfulness, 7(3), 614–621. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-016-0496-x
4. Luberto, C., Shinday, M., Song, N., Philpotts, R., Park, L., Fricchione, L., & Yeh, E. (2018). A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of the Effects of Meditation on Empathy, Compassion, and Prosocial Behaviors. Mindfulness, 9(3), 708–724. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0841-8
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10. Jing Li, Ling Long, Yu Liu, Wei He, Min Li, Effects of a mindfulness-based intervention on fertility quality of life and pregnancy rates among women subjected to first in vitro fertilization treatment, Behaviour Research and Therapy, Volume 77, 2016, Pages 96-104, ISSN 0005-7967, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2015.12.010.
11. Li, G., Jiang, Z., Han, X. et al. A moderated mediation model of perceived stress, negative emotions and mindfulness on fertility quality of life in women with recurrent pregnancy loss. Qual Life Res 29, 1775–1787 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11136-020-02460-2
12. Masoumeh Sadat Hosseini, Parvaneh Mousavi, Khadijeh Hekmat, Mohammad Hossein Haghighyzadeh, Reza Johari Fard, Razieh Mohammad Jafari. Effects of a short-term mindfulness-based stress reduction program on the quality of life of women with infertility: A randomized controlled clinical trial, Complementary Therapies in Medicine, Volume 50, 2020, 102403, ISSN 0965-2299, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2020.102403.
13. Sherratt KA, Lunn S. Evaluation of a group programme of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for women with fertility problems. J Obstet Gynaecol. 2013 Jul;33(5):499-501. doi: 10.3109/01443615.2013.786031. PMID: 23815205.
14. Xiaoran Wang & Yunxia Wang (2022) The Effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Intervention on Emotional States of Women Undergoing Fertility Treatment: A Meta-Analysis, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, DOI: 10.1080/0092623X.2022.2109542
15. Cai-Feng Bai1,2, Nai-Xue Cui1, Xian Xu3, Guang-li Mi4, Ji-Wei Sun1, Di Shao5, Jie Li1, Yin-Zhi Jiang3, Qian-Qian Yang1, Xuan Zhang1, and Feng-Lin Cao1 Effectiveness of two guided self-administered interventions for psychological distress among women with infertility: a three-armed, randomized controlled trial. Human Reproduction, Vol.34, No.7, pp. 1235–1248, 2019 Advance Access Publication on June 26, 2019 doi:10.1093/humrep/dez066
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17. Gaitzsch, H., Benard, J., Hugon-Rodin, J. et al. The effect of mind-body interventions on psychological and pregnancy outcomes in infertile women: a systematic review. Arch Womens Ment Health 23, 479–491 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00737-019-01009-8
18. Colleran, E (n.d.) What is mindfulness? https://blog.smilingmind.com.au/what-is-mindfulness.
19. Santa-Cruz, D.C., et al., Hair Cortisol Concentrations as a Biomarker to Predict a Clinical Pregnancy Outcome after an IVF Cycle: A Pilot Feasibility Study. Int J Environ Res Public Health, 2020. 17(9).