Understanding anxiety and infertility

Many people with infertility also experience anxiety - find out why, and how to cope.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the world. Around 30% of adults experience anxiety during their lifetime.

Anxiety can be experienced in response to certain life experiences or circumstances, like during infertility, surrounding abuse, or after the loss of a loved one. But anxiety isn’t always related to an external stimulus. Generalized anxiety disorder, the most common form of anxiety, is the experience of anxiety in daily life without a specific or known cause.

According to the NIMH, “Anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships.”

Here are a few examples of what anxiety can feel like:

  • “Chronic anxiety is messy and unpredictable, overpowering and insidious, physical and mental, and at times so unexpectedly debilitating I’m unable to speak or think clearly or even move.” - Steve Barry
  • Anxiety is like when you’re playing a video game, and the evil boss’ music is playing so you know danger is nearby, but no threats actually appear.
  • “Living with anxiety - living alarmed - makes it impossible to enter the moment, to land inside my body and be there. I cannot be in the moment because I am too afraid of what the next moment will bring. I have to be ready.” - Glennon Doyle
  • Anxiety is like a revolving door of negative thoughts in your brain that never stops spinning, no matter how much you try to reassure yourself that everything is okay.

How to know if you’re experiencing anxiety

Anxiety can impact us physically and mentally. Sometimes the experience is so glaring and powerful that we can’t feel or think about anything else. But other times, anxiety can be sneaky, and we might not even realize we’re anxious until someone else points out to us that we’re experiencing symptoms like shaking, sweating or talking nonstop.

In order to cope with anxiety, we first need to be able to recognize it when you’re experiencing it.

Some of the symptoms of anxiety:

  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
  • Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
  • Easily fatigued and low energy
  • A sense of dread and doomsday thinking
  • Difficulty concentrating - mind going blank
  • Rumination, thinking about something negative over and over again
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep problems, e.g. difficulty falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep
  • Panic attacks
  • Self-judgment and negativity
  • Depersonalization, dissociation or disconnected from self

One way to recognize if you’re experiencing anxiety is to do a body scan meditation. Put away distractions and focus on your breath as you breathe deeply into your belly. Bring your awareness to each part of your body, starting with your toes and ending with your head, and notice any sensations you feel.

If you’re experiencing anxiety, you might notice some physical symptoms or thoughts that are triggered by practicing mindfulness in this way.

Anxiety during infertility

Many people with infertility experience anxiety. Numerous studies show that “women with infertility report elevated levels of anxiety and depression.” Research suggests that up to 60% of infertile individuals report symptoms of anxiety and depression, and that their levels of anxiety and depression are significantly higher than in fertile controls.

One study on infertility and anxiety showed that “The prevalence of anxiety among the infertile group was higher compared with patients diagnosed with HIV-positive, cancer, heart diseases, or other serious, life-threatening chronic diseases.”

This means two things: first, that it’s common to experience anxiety when facing infertility and that you’re not alone. Second, that because people with infertility are at a higher risk for anxiety, it’s important to be mindful of your mental health and seek support.

When it comes to the causes of anxiety during infertility, there could be numerous factors:

  • One study found that 86.8% of the women with infertility surveyed were experiencing anxiety, and it was correlated to how long they had been experiencing infertility.
  • Fertility medications, like Lupron and Clomid, can have anxiety symptoms as side effects.
  • The stress of managing doctor’s appointments, tracking cycles and ovulation, taking medications, and timing intercourse can cause anxiety.
  • The life circumstances surrounding infertility, such as other people in your life conceiving easily, and the uncertainty of your future, can be anxiety-inducing.

6 tips for coping with anxiety related to infertility

  1. Seek support for your mental health

Anxiety can be a debilitating mental health issue, so seeking support is crucial for your well-being. A mental health professional can provide the interventions needed to help you cope with your anxiety.

You don’t have to experience severe anxiety symptoms to reach out for help - even if you don’t think you’re experiencing anxiety, having mental health support during infertility can be immensely helpful.

  1. Know that you’re not alone - reach out to others

As we’ve seen, it’s very common for people with infertility to experience anxiety. Talk to the people you know who understand infertility - people in your life, or in online forums like the Tilly community - to help you feel connected and less alone.

Social connection is an important part of our overall well-being, so reach out to people you love and trust to help you as you go through this difficult time.

  1. Practice mindfulness

Taking some moments to focus on your breath and return to the here and now can help calm anxious thoughts. If your anxiety is too high to allow you to sit still and be present in your body, you can also practice mindfulness while you go for a walk in nature, dance it out in your living room, or do something active like swimming.

Mindfulness is about learning to observe your thoughts without judgment. You don’t have to be perfectly zen or blank, you’re just noticing what’s going on in yourself, which is a great tool for managing anxiety.

  1. Focus on something positive, creative or exciting

Focusing on something productive or engaging can help calm your anxiety. Try starting a new hobby, or returning to something you used to love doing. It can be something creative or intellectually stimulating, like knitting, watercolors, puzzles, or a musical instrument.

Not only will this help you focus on something other than anxiety, it can also be fun and support your well-being in general.

  1. Find new ways of thinking

Cognitive restructuring, or finding new ways of thinking, can help you cope with anxiety. Tools like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, loving kindness meditation, and positive affirmations can help you notice and change negative thought patterns.

When you find yourself stuck in an anxiety-induced negative thought spiral, try questioning your assumptions, finding alternative thoughts, or gathering evidence against the negative thoughts to help your mind break out of the cycle.

  1. Be kind to yourself

Remember that so many people with infertility experience anxiety. This isn’t a personal shortcoming, and there’s nothing wrong with you. Being kind to yourself is crucial for your ability to care for yourself and heal from this experience.

Give yourself treats throughout the day - this could be literal treats like chocolate, or symbolic treats like five minutes alone, an extra long bath, listening to your favorite song, or hugging someone you love. You deserve love, care and support.

About Maya

Maya Maria Brown, M.A., is an infertility mental health expert. She has a master’s in Counseling Psychology, and has worked with individuals and couples on infertility and relationships. She also has personal experience with infertility and is currently in treatment.


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