Doing everything you can to get pregnant?

Many of the natural fertility websites are great resources for when you’re trying to conceive.  You can get information on what food to eat; some even offer recipes to increase fertility!! Exercise, physical activity, and yoga, are all very important for keeping body systems functioning well, releasing energy, and changing focus.  Keeping your body in physical shape to enhance pregnancy seems to be the buzz out there in trying to conceive (TTC) land.

What happens however if the body has great food coming in and the ‘right’ amount of exercise going out but our minds are in chaos?  What happens? A lot, and unfortunately it can counter balance all that good work you are doing to get pregnant. 

All that good care doesn’t have a chance at making the real differences we had hoped for if our minds (and consequently our bodies) are full of stress.  The mind body connection is so strong that if our minds are busy worrying, thinking about what might not happen, how sad we will be, how sad we currently are, etc. there is a direct impact on the functioning of all our physical systems, including our reproductive system.

Most people know about the fight or flight response, or the stress response. They experience it when suddenly there is a trauma, like someone smashing into your car, or someone threatening walks towards us, or if we are scared walking out at night.  Our body feels “something is wrong here, get me out” and so it is prepared to fight or flee.  At these times our sympathetic nervous system is activated.  We may break into a sweat, our hearts start to pump stress hormones throughout our body, breath quickens to cope with these physical changes and we lose the ability to process too much information as we just want it to stop, or to get out of there.

Unfortunately however, the mind doesn’t know the difference between a real and an imaginary threat.  So if we believe we are in danger, for example, if we only think we hear those footsteps behind us, we will still have the stress response to protect us.  If your mind is jumping from one stressor to the next, living in a world of emotional turmoil, then the body moves into the stress response thinking it needs to protect you in some way, and when our stress hormones are released, they talk to the whole body – reproductive system included.

When women are trying to conceive it has been shown that their levels of anxiety and depression are so high they are similar to those dealing with cancer.  The stress involved when trying to conceive is heightened most of the time.  There is a monthly rollercoaster of worrying, hope, expectation, disappointment, and sadness, and then it all starts again.  Assisted reproductive treatment increases the intensity of this rollercoaster, as it can offer new hope and new disappointment.  

When we go in to the stress response no matter how well you treat your body, it won’t respond to the yoga, walking and exercise, and it won’t actually take up the vitamins, minerals, oxygen, etc. that we think it’s doing. According to Dr Libby Weaver “adrenaline communicates to every cell of your body that your life is being threatened, even though all you may have done is have an argument with your beloved….” (p.133,  Rushing Women’s Syndrome, Weaver 2011). Stress is the body’s way to preserve its survival, and while it’s doing that, it is also sending a message that this would not be a good time to reproduce.

So of course the answer is to relax! However it is hard to relax when you are thinking -  “I’m being punished” or “I’ve failed, I’m not good enough” or you are rushing from one demand or appointment to another.  Of course everyone has something to offer –“have a massage, take a weekend away, have a glass of wine, just relax” – nice things to do but not really effective once we are already in the stress response.

The answer is the “relaxation response” – a term coined by Dr Herbert Benson of the Benson Henry Institute.  The relaxation response is the opposite of the fight or flight response, and it is characterised by “decreased metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure and rate of breathing; a decrease or “calming” in brain activity; an increase in attention and decision-making functions of the brain; and changes in gene activity that are the opposite of those associated with stress” (p.179, Relaxation Revolution, Benson & Proctor, 2010)

The relaxation response is a specific technique that holds the body in relaxation so that the impact of the stress response is reduced and often not elicited.  Once in a stress response counting to 10 or breathing deeply probably will have a minimum impact, although breathing out does reduce the stress response. Better still, if our body knows the experience of the relaxation response, if it is practiced in this technique, then once we are in a stress response eliciting the relaxation response is much easier. 

The relaxation response needs to be learned and practiced to have its wonderful benefits, and the benefits are quite dramatic.  We can reduce the strain on our hearts; reduce the possibility of stomach problems, ulcers, gastric reflux and other illnesses, including the expression of autoimmune diseases and reproductive challenges.

Dr Ali Domar’s work on infertility has come out of her work with Herbert Benson and the exploration of the impact of the relaxation response on fertility.  We find one of the biggest differences our Mind Body Program for Fertility offers, is how it elicits the relaxation response.  Women who undergo the program, talk about how much more relaxed they feel even though the everyday pressures of infertility, relationships, work, family and social life are still the same.  

We would be happy to talk to you about how the relaxation response can undo the impact of the stress response, rebuild healthy bodies and give you the best chance when trying to conceive. 

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