If you’ve dipped a toe into fertility, you’ll have read about the mind-body connection. What makes this aspect of TTC so powerful, and a turn-key for so many? Angela Shaba, PhdD, sports performance counselor, fertility warrior and founder of Fiercely Fertile, explains.
Words by Angela Shaba, PhD
The fertility mindset
Fertility struggles. Infertility. IVF. There is nothing easy about these words. Unfortunately, if you struggle with your fertility, you know all too well the pain, exhaustion, and sadness you can experience as a result.
IVF emotional side effects can be really varied. But for me, these ranged from shame to fear, uncertainty, and confusion. Each of these increased my anxiety and stress, creating depression and low self-esteem. As I went through my fertility journey – and multiple IVF cycles – without success, I started to realize my mind and body were not one, but disconnected.
They were not acting together to support my fertility. They were fighting one another – not something you want when struggling with fertility and going through an IVF cycle. I realized I needed to work on managing my mind-body connection, layering the fertility support, egg quality boosts, and treatments onto a strong foundation.
Mindfulness is a skill I mastered to support my fertility journey, and my mind-body connection.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is being present in the moment.
It is living in the present rather than living in the past or future. When we live mindfully, we do not dwell on past situations or anticipate future ones. Instead, we are focused on what is happening right now. Being mindful allows us to recognize and be aware of our emotions and how we react to situations in our day-to-day lives. We are more grounded and balanced. We accept what is, rather than being self-critical and overly consumed with emotion.
Fertility and mindfulness – why it’s a powerful tool
How does mindfulness play a role in fertility?
Time and again in my own journey, and practice with clients, I see that mindfulness is a game-changer for fertility. My online course, Optimizing your Fertility and IVF Cycle, takes its foundation from key mindfulness techniques, and benefits – and there are so many for fertility and beyond.
Mindfulness reduces stress and – more specifically – TTC or IVF anxiety, helps you handle your emotions, and manages your body’s flight or fight response. It supports your mind-body connection, your health, overall wellbeing, and your fertility.
From performance counseling to fertility coaching – how Fiercely Fertile came to be
I created Fiercely Fertile from my own professional and personal experience. I too struggled with infertility when I was diagnosed with diminished ovarian reserve, and was told trying to have my own child would be close-to impossible.
This information came to me after my initial attempt to preserve my fertility, when I was single. Met with this harsh reality, I stumbled into the anxious world of googling and the sadness and shame that accompanies a difficult fertility diagnosis. As I started my fertility journey and treatments, I realized quickly I had to be more mentally grounded to handle the physical and emotional toll infertility takes. So, I looked to my professional background to help myself through this difficult time.
Fertility is a marathon – I’ll run beside you
I’m a performance counselor who helps top athletes manage their stress and anxiety, so they can reach their goals. I work with them on their mental game, teaching athletes specific mental skills that keep their mind mentally tough – and their head in the game – during their season, so they can perform successfully. I basically am the mental health coach that helps them get out of their head and into their body – or rather, connects the two!
With a PhD in performance psychology and years of experience working with top athletes and career executives, I help women who are struggling with their fertility and undergoing treatment. I am the fertility mental health coach who helps you through your fertility game. I call it the fertility marathon, and I run beside you, teaching you effective strategies that connect your mind and body, reduce your stress, and support your mental health to be a powerful foundation for your fertility.
Why is IVF so stressful?
IVF is all-consuming. It takes over every aspect of your life. It is stressful because you are physically and emotionally drained and experience so many different emotions throughout the process.
Emotions like fear, shame, uncertainty, and loneliness can really take over. Plus, IVF increases our feelings of anxiety and depression. You’re often isolated from loved ones in your life or from the life you knew before your fertility struggle. These feelings can directly affect how we think about things, feel about ourselves, and how we handle the stress that comes at us.
In a nutshell, IVF affects our mental health, and this can affect our physical health too.
Fertility mindset – and a balanced mental approach – for IVF
So, why do you need mindfulness practice while going through your fertility journey? Because it helps!
Mindfulness supports the mind-body connection. By practicing mindfulness, your stress levels decrease, your cortisol drops, and you should feel:
- more in control of your emotions
- fewer emotional swings
- more balanced while going through your IVF cycle
- more present and grounded in your body
You are creating what I like to call ‘mental toughness’ or mental strength, and this balanced mental approach can be helpful when dealing with fertility stress.
Mindfulness does not have to be boring, long, or frustrating – I get those concerns all the time! It should be the opposite. Practicing mindfulness and being more mindful throughout the day should be easy and uplifting.
Self-care is paramount when struggling with fertility, and while going through IVF.
Remember, IVF can be all-consuming, making you feel detached from who you are. I know self-care can be challenging when you are going through IVF, but it is a must. Taking care of yourself is important.
Create a self-care checklist that you write down and can reference while going through your IVF treatment. A self-care checklist will list all the things you can do when you aren’t feeling so great and need some TLC. Self-care can be things like taking a bath, watching a favorite movie, and going for a walk outside. Self-care is doing things that make you feel good, and more in touch with yourself.
2. Professional support
We can’t do it all alone, and sometimes you need a bit of extra support.
When going through IVF, that support can sometimes come from a professional like a fertility coach or mental health provider. Talking with someone with the expertise, education, and knowledge to help you through a stressful and anxious time can be powerful and beneficial to your overall physical and mental health.
Finding a fertility coach – like me! – who not only has educational and professional experience with mental health support, but also has personal experience with fertility, can be beneficial to your journey and to supporting your mental health and fertility needs.
3. Relaxation skills
One way to practice mindfulness is through meditation.
When I say meditation, most people get nervous because they think of meditation as long and difficult. Meditation is not supposed to be anxiety-provoking. Many of us don’t have a lot of time in our busy day to practice a long meditation. That’s why Fiercely Fertile promotes short meditations. I’ve also created a short meditation practice that promotes relaxation, supports the mind-body connection, and reduces stress.
If you have five minutes, you can practice meditation. Get into a comfortable position, focus on your breathing, and stay present. You will continue to bring your awareness and focus into the present moment, and when thoughts enter your mind, acknowledge them, and send them on their way.
Breathing is another form of mindfulness that effectively supports the mind-body connection and reduces stress and anxiety. You can use breathing techniques any time during the day when you are feeling stressed or anxious. I teach an effective breathing technique I like that helps reduce stress, and keeps you grounded. When practicing any breathing technique, you want to inhale slowly through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth.
Breathing helps you remain focused, stay present and be more in control of your mind and body.
Don’t do this alone – Fiercely Fertile can help
From my resource-packed hub over at Fiercely Fertile to Instagram inspo and support – plus the evidence-based, experience-led online course Optimizing your Fertility and IVF Cycle – it is my mission to support your mind-body-fertility connection, at any point in your fertility journey.
Whether you’re just beginning, in-treatment, or are returning from taking a break, I use effective, proven strategies to support your fertility journey and your mental health.
Stay fierce. Stay fiercely fertile.
Connect with Fiercely Fertile today, for the turn-key in your mind-body approach.