“Infertility Hangover” | myMindBodyBaby
The Infertility Hangover. It has a lot of symptoms. I was in a fertility clinic the other day to speak to the great team there about our support tools and I felt the old anxiety rushing back. Just sitting in those chairs, seeing the posters and information pamphlets, brought it all back. Yet another symptom of the Infertility Hangover.
Infertility Hangover: the hangover that electrolytes can’t fix.
Michelle and I use the term “Infertility Hangover” to describe the long lasting effect infertility has on your mind and body. Your mind has become conditioned to a repeated rollercoaster of emotions – the build up of hope and anticipation only to feel the crushing despair of disappointment followed by extended periods of sadness and grief.
Hormones at play.
This doesn’t just impact your thoughts – there is a physical reaction in your body as well. You can even feel it – you know that sudden dropping sensation in your stomach? Or the feeling of your heart rate accelerating? I did a little deep dive into some of the hormones at play. Here are four involved in those feelings of ups and downs: neuropeptides, serotonin, endorphins and dopamine.
Neuropeptides – the communication hormone
Neuropeptides help spread the word through your body on how you are feeling – “Extra! Extra! Read all about it – Lyndsey is feeling HAPPY right now!”. When you are happy, sad, or in pain these hormones distribute that feeling through your body. They are also responsible for helping you feel calm and relieved of stress following a harrowing event.
Serotonin – mood regulating hormone
This neurotransmitter mediates, “satisfaction, happiness, and optimism”. Levels of this hormone are found in higher concentration when you are feeling happy, and lower levels when you are feeling sad or depressed.
Endorphins – sex, love and rock n’ roll
These little guys are released when you do fun things like eat chocolate, exercise (yes – exercise is fun!), have sex (the fun kind, not the “I’m ovulating” kind), listen to music, laugh. High levels of endorphins help to reduce feelings of pain – and low levels thwart happiness.
Dopamine – the feel good hormone
Dopamine is responsible for feelings of happiness and bliss, and it also helps increase your anticipated happiness of future events. In a study performed assessing the impact of dopamine, subjects given medication to enhance dopaminergic function had an, “enhanced prediction of pleasure associated with a future event”. Conversely, low levels of dopamine can leave you feeling tired, depressed and sad.
So what does all this mean?
Let’s go back to my waiting room example. I had no reason to feel anxious or worried in that waiting room – but after so many hours in fertility clinic waiting rooms my mind had an automatic response and my body and hormones followed suit. Enter: The Infertility Hangover.
Even when you should be happy…
Even after eventually becoming pregnant via IVF I was braced for disappointment. I was a ball of stress and nerves leading up to every pregnancy appointment. I would get the report that everything looked good, I’d feel happy and relaxed for a few days – and then the anxiety started to creep back.
Too good to be true.
The first pregnancy progressed smoothly resulting in our first little miracle in July 2016. During my second pregnancy I almost found the anxiety worse. We had been able to get pregnant on our own the second time around (talk about miracles!), and so there were less early pregnancy appointments and assessments. We didn’t have that reassuring PGS (pre-genetic screening) report. This pregnancy felt so “uncontrolled”. I was so used to tests, results, and constant monitoring. I was also stuck with the feeling that it was all too good to be true – something like this couldn’t just happen to us. The Infertility Hangover strikes again.
Working through it.
While there is no getting around disappointment in life, we can work on how we manage ourselves in the face of it. When you dwell on what can go wrong you miss out on enjoying the happy moments, living in the moment and experiencing some semblance of mental peace. Let’s go back to the research – we want to find ways to increase dopamine, serotonin and endorphins and let those little chatterbox neuropeptides spread the news in the body that we are happy.
Strategies to combat the Infertility Hangover
The next time you are faced with disappointment or find your happiness is being hampered by feelings of dread, give one (or more!) of these tools a try. Different “tools” will work better for some versus others – experiment to find ones that work for you.
1. Retrain Your Brain.
Your outlook is the lens through which you view your life. If you are constantly dwelling on the negative and anticipating the worst outcome you’re more likely notice the downside of a situation vs. finding the upside. Try to notice when negative thoughts start spiraling. Pause, and take a moment to appreciate what can be taken from the situation. This could start that positive hormonal chain reaction we’ve been talking about!
Example: You just went in for your day 12 lining check during a medicated cycle and your lining isn’t as thick as the doctor would like it to be. You can think, “This is awful – this cycle is a waste. Another lost month!”. Or, you can think: “I’m glad they are ensuring my lining is optimal for my upcoming IUI or frozen transfer. I wouldn’t want to proceed with the procedure only to endure the two week wait and find out it didn’t work.” Use this as an opportunity to speak with your doctor about whether anything could be adjusted during this cycle, or what you could try different next month.
Dr. Jain, pediatrician, founder of Quills & Quotes, and fellow infertility warrior shares some of the wisdom she learned along her fertility journey:
Infertility takes over your life. All you see are pregnant women and babies. The world is a constant reminder of what you do not have. How do you move forward? Release your wants and concentrate on your haves. You are healthy. You have family. You have friends. You have a partner to share your journey. You Have.
2. Stay Busy.
When the negativity starts spiraling – distract yourself. Find something else to focus on. While I obviously didn’t like the injections and internal ultrasounds and all the rest of it that comes with IVF, at least I felt that in those moments I was taking positive actions to lead to our goal. Then I’d go to work, or go home and want something else to do to. Other actions to feel like I was doing everything I could to achieve a healthy pregnancy. And this was really the impetus for launching myMindBodyBaby – we wanted to help others find something else they could do to support their fertility health. If you want day-by-day guides to help you find movement and meditation to support any type of fertility treatment read more here. However you keep busy – find some options that spark happiness. Remember – we are aiming to increase those positive hormones!
3. Sweat it out.
Exercise gets the endorphins pumping! If you’re following us on Instagram (which you totally should be, by the way!!) then you’ll often here me mention my daily exercise and getting the endorphins going. I get that infamous “runner’s high” and use exercise to help me feel better on a daily basis. Not only is it good for your mood, research has shown that “regular, moderate exercise is associated with improved age-specific levels of ovarian reserve markers”. Looking for an exercise routine you can do during fertility treatments? Give this yoga flow a try:
Another benefit of yoga – you can continue to practice into your pregnancy and beyond. I interviewed Nicole Sargent and Stephanie Fasulo from Power Yoga Canada on their yoga practice:
Prenatal yoga gave me a space where I could accept my changing body. I wasn’t in competition with anyone else around me. There was a supportive room full of women expecting babies, but also expecting alot of change in their lives. Being able to connect with women who are going through the same things was a really powerful part of my prenatal class experience. – Stephanie
I’m so grateful for both my yoga & meditation practice and the tools they have given me throughout the ups & downs of growing a family, and being a present & connected parent. – Nicole
4. Phone a friend.
Research has shown that having social support can “buffer stress associated with various health issues including infertility”. By opening up about your infertility to a close friend or family member you can provide them the opportunity to give you support. This same research demonstrated that those did open up about their infertility reported “greater quality of life”. If you aren’t ready to open up to close friends or family, or perhaps are looking for other women who are in the same boat you are – visit our Facebook page and join myMindBodyBaby Connect.
Ok – so there you have it, a bit of research on what causes those happy (and not so happy) feelings and some tools to add to your toolbox. But let’s take it one step further – I challenge you to a 10 Day Happiness Challenge! Who’s with me?! For the next 10 days I challenge you to implement one quick “happiness action” a day. Each day will have one simple task to do that will leave you feeling just a little bit more lighthearted. Let’s do this!