It seems that everyone has an opinion about IVF, stress and the impact stress has on success rates.
I’ve both led guided relaxation sessions in my professional life as an allied health professional and tried to find the time to fit them in during my personal life. Whilst I believe that the evidence is still mixed on the direct impact it has on IVF success rates (see the IVF guide for details) I think it remains unanimous that the lower our stress levels the better.
Regardless of whether or not stress has a direct impact on IVF success rates (because lets be honest, that is what we really care about), over time it can have serious health consequences such as raised blood pressure, adrenal dysfunction and ulcers.
So what is the answer
Women undergoing IVF have both psychological and physical reasons to feel stressed. Granted, not everyone has PCOS, but I once read an article that reported women with PCOS are more likely to have anxiety and depression IRRESPECTIVE of whether or not they were trying to conceive. What this means is that regardless of whether or not you have the added worry associated with IVF and infertility just the very fact that you have PCOS means that there is a biochemical function happening that means you are more susceptible to anxiety and depression.
That is where mindfulness comes into it. Mindfulness seems to be a bit of a buzz word at the moment and with good reason.
There are many articles documenting mindfulness and its ability to reduce stress in a variety of patient groups. One study has even researched the direct link between mindfulness and IVF success rates:
This study, only just published in 2016 (1), looked at the outcomes of 108 women in China undergoing their first IVF cycle. Dividing these women into two groups, one group (50 women) became the ‘experimental group’ and voluntarily attended mindfulness classes every Saturday or Sunday for 2 hours for six weeks. The other group became the control group and they did not attend any classes but instead just continued on with their IVF as normal. What they found was that as well as reporting improvements in measures of self compassion, coping strategies and a whole other host of areas women who practiced mindfulness also had an increase in clinical pregnancy rates . What they found was that women who participated in the mindfulness activities, 44% became pregnant in that cycle and the women who did practice mindfulness 26% became pregnant (p = .04).
Granted there are a few factors to consider here :
- are the women who would volunteer to do mindfulness more likely to be those that have the predisposition and health attitudes that might favor pregnancy regardless?
- is it that mindfulness improves sleep patterns and that is what improved the pregnancy rates
- it is quite a small sample size
- what if the control group participated in another form of intervention such as guided relaxation or counseling – would there still be the marked differences in pregnancy rates?
Although these questions exist, ultimately there is minimal expense to you, no side effects and a lot to gain. It is still promising stuff.
But not all of us can take part in mindfulness programs run through their fertility center (can anybody?!?)
That’s why we need to take control of our own risk factors and implement the practices of mindfulness where we can.
Not only can you practice mindfulness ‘on the go’, sitting waiting for an appointment or even when brushing your teeth it can be practiced in all different sorts of ways and there is generally something for everyone.
So what is it?
There is loads of information on mindfulness out there so I will keep it quick. Mindfulness at its most raw form is simply being present in the moment. It is not worrying about what those results you will get at 2pm are going to bring, nor is it worrying about getting time off work next week for egg pickup. It is not feeling guilty that you had that extra glass of wine last night or anxious about your best friends baby shower coming up. Whilst it is undeniable that these thoughts are going to enter your mind, the trick is to let them enter your mind, acknowledge that you have had them and then without judgement or guilt simply bring your mind back to the present. And best of all it can take as little or as long as you like!
Yes. It sounds pretty simple. And yes, obviously there is much more to mindfulness activities then what will fit into a blog post short enough for you to read.
But just try this.
Things are always better when you try it for yourself. Assuming you are not driving a car or something equally dangerous that requires your attention, just stay sitting where you are now.
You can spend as little or as much time doing the above exercise. The idea is just to get used to slowing your mind down. The breathing exercise that follows can be done whenever you are feeling stressed or anxious or need to just take a minute. I do this exercise every night as I am trying to fall asleep.
Breathing is an important foundation skill you need to have to practice mindfulness and requires practice and shouldn’t be rushed.
See? It works doesn’t it? Do you feel a sense of calmness that you didn’t have before? Refreshed even? It’s not the magical cure but it certainly helps to break tension that you are feeling and break the cycle of those ruminating, often negative, thoughts that just keep going over and over in your mind.
The whole goal of mindfulness is to give yourself a bit of a break. Just pay attention to the moment and live only in that one moment.
Mindfulness is a skill that gets easier the more you do it. Try to spend just a few minutes at first every day practicing it. So tonight when you are in bed, mind racing as you try to calculate ‘if I get pregnant at my next cycle, when does that mean I can go on maternity leave?’ try just breathing. Just lay there. Be in the moment and enjoy the relief.