Before we dive into fertility and stress let’s look at some history. It wasn’t much more than 100 years ago when we thought illness was spread by smells. The famous nursery rhyme ‘Ring-a-ring o’ roses, A pocket full of posies, A-tishoo! A-tishoo! We all fall down’ is about carrying a posy of flowers to keep away the plague. They thought misamas in the air (smell) caused the illness. They had no idea that germs were killing people in operating theatres because the doctor apron and instruments were not cleaned between procedures.
Prior to the discovery of germ theory illness and low mortality was quite normal. For example it was very normal for a high percentage of mothers to die during childbirth. It was normal for high percentage of patients to die from any operation. So prior to the discovery of germs (which led on to discovery of penicillin) illness was quite normal.
In today’s society it could be said that stress is seen as normal. That in some ways it is unavoidable, infertility and stress seem to go hand-in-hand. But what is the truth about fertility and stress?
Some people believe that a little stress is even helpful. That a small amount of pressure will push them to achieve the things they want to achieve. Help them them strive to achieve the things they might find challenging. The truth is no one performs their best under any amount of pressure. We perform at our best when we have less on our mind, in a state of flow or what sports people often call being in the zone. And particularly when it comes to fertility it doesn’t take much stress or tension in the body to knock out the delicate cocktail of hormones required at each stage of the process.
Many of my clients have been successful in their career, business or other projects in their life. They would agree they generally achieve what they set out to achieve through hard work and focus. Striving for that goal. They then find that this approach doesn’t work for fertility and their goal of having a baby.
Just like people thought illness was caused by smells, they thought it was something exterior to the body causing the illness. An outside in view of the cause of stress is that the stressful situation is causing the internal experience. ‘I am stressed because I am in a stressful job’ is a common phrase I hear.
Response to stress
When we have this perspective of stress we tend to two things. One is to avoid stressful situations. Perhaps we don’t go for the promotion or put ourselves in situations where we think we will feel stress e.g. public speaking. However, it’s pretty hard to avoid your fertility situation!
The other is that we may adopt stress management tools such as mindfulness, breathing exercises or positive affirmations. This can be like putting a bucket under a leaky roof! It is trying to deal with the effect rather than the cause.
If we think the cause is the external situation we get tend to get a busy mind trying to work out what we can do to deal with the situation (the perceived cause), thinking through the possible solutions. Often we think there is nothing we can do about it, that it is out of our control leaving us feeling powerless and trapped.
We had 10 years on infertility. I spent a lot of that time feeling really angry with the situation, with ‘life’ and anxious as to whether we would ever be truly happy, whether we would be able to finally get on and live our lives live everyone else seemed to do without all the problems and stresses we have.
the real source of stress
It is like physical illness where we had a misunderstanding of the cause of illness that prevented us from being more healthy and avoiding unnecessary infection and death. The discovery of germ theory and the realisation of what was really causing the deaths resulted in an overnight paradigm shift in the medical world and a immediate reduction in the death rate through cleaning of instruments and aprons etc. between hospitals even before the discovery of penicillin.
Stress is not caused by situations. This is a misunderstanding of where our human experience comes from. Any experience not just stress.
We are not experiencing our circumstances, we are experiencing our thinking about our circumstances. Our human experience is an inside job. It works inside-out not outside-in.
If our circumstances created our experience then everyone would have the same experience of the same circumstances but that is not the case. Emergency service workers could attend a highly traumatic scene and some get signed off with stress for six months and others get a McDonalds on the way home. There is no one single response to any situation.
If our circumstances created our experiences we would have the same constant experience until the circumstances changed. Again this is not the case. We have good days and bad days when the circumstances haven’t changed at all.
I am not saying out thinking creates our circumstances, thought creates our experience of our circumstances. Every aspect of our experience. Even pain. You could have a source of constant pain e.g. tooth ache or pulled muscle and in some moments it is agony and at other times you may not be aware of it as your mind is on other things. The source has not changed. Every perceptual experience we have comes from thought.
So what does this mean for stress? It means when we know where our experience is coming from we don’t have to be scared of it. We don’t have to try and fix it. We don’t resent it. We know it is thought in this moment. And the thing about thought is it comes and goes. And left to it’s own devices it is always moving to peace of mind. It really is a self correcting system. The more we resent our feelings or try and fix them we are adding more thinking in to the mix and not letting it settle.
We can see this in toddlers. Babies and toddlers are our purest form, uncontaminated by outside-in thinking (I’ll be happy if… or I’ll be happy when…) thinking we tend to pick up through childhood and beyond. Toddlers get upset, they have a tantrum. Then what happens? They go back to being OK without any intervention. They go back to being present, at peace. They don’t bear grudges, they don’t worry about tomorrow, they go back to having a calm mind and being present.
Our mind is like a snow globe. It can get shaken up, we feel stressed and overwhelmed. However it settles on it’s own. It’s designed that way. The more we interfere with the system the longer the feeling hangs around.
When we know where our experience is coming from we can allow it. We can just feel it knowing it’s Thought in the moment and it will move on. We can know we are OK whether we feel OK or not because we are not our thinking (and thus feelings).
Thoughts and feelings are like weather systems. We have no control over them and the less we care what we are feeling (because we see it as thought) the more it passes and we spend more time with clear skies.