Coping With the Coronavirus: Managing Stress & Infertility During the Pandemic

Woman wearing face mask during coronavirus | Women & Infants' Fertility Center | Rhode Island

Stress and anxiety can alter the hormone balance necessary to become pregnant. It can affect the pregnancy success of couples in other ways, too. Don’t let stress about the coronavirus take a toll on your fertility plan.

We give you ways to beat the stress

Thinking about delays in fertility treatment during the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic can cause stress and anxiety – and it’s completely understandable. That’s why taking care of yourself and tending to your emotional and mental health is paramount right now.

We offer our patients help and moral support in taking care of themselves with the following coping tips.

The risks of not managing stress during the coronavirus outbreak

Many infertility patients have experienced grief and loss getting to their current point in infertility treatment only to experience further grief and loss during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Office visits and treatments may now be delayed or postponed, which means the idea of starting a family will also, sadly, be postponed. Gearing yourself up mentally and emotionally for the treatment plan, medications or procedures takes energy and commitment, and keeping that momentum going indefinitely can cause anxiety and stress.

If you’ve experienced stress and anxiety over the past few months, you are not alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that common stress symptoms during an infectious disease pandemic include fear and worry about your health and that of your loved ones, changes in sleeping or eating patterns, and worsening of chronic and mental health problems.

According to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), stress can disturb the necessary balance of hormonal conditions required to become pregnant. Mental or emotional stress triggers an automatic release of hormones into the body that elevate heart rate, increase blood pressure and boost energy. A prolonged state of hormones flooding the body is not healthy and can cause physiological and psychological damage.

If you’re on an infertility journey, additional stress only exacerbates the problem. SART quotes research that demonstrates that couples who report feeling good become pregnant at a higher rate than couples who report being tense or anxious. Women with higher levels of stress have lower success rates with in vitro fertilization (IVF) than those who have low levels of stress.

When things return closer to normal, be ready to get back to our care by completing all of your preparation work now.

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Stress-busting tips for those with infertility

Therefore, maintaining peace of mind is of utmost importance. Some ways to minimize stress during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is forcing delayed fertility treatments (yet another stress factor), include:

  • Eating healthfully.
  • Walking and aerobic exercise.
  • Yoga.
  • Meditation and apps, such as FertiCalm (for women) and FertiStrong (for men), Headspace, MindshiftCBT, or Personal Zen.
  • Guided imagery journaling (a relaxation technique similar to daydreaming).
  • Mind-body groups.
  • Self-help books.
  • Reach out to friends and family.
  • Support groups specifically focused on fertility patients.
  • Distract yourself from coronavirus topics. Take a minimum half-hour a day to focus on something else.
  • If you do want the latest COVID-19 news, use reliable sources including the CDC, World Health Organization and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM).
  • Temper social media usage and news intake. Set a certain amount of time each day to check these outlets.
  • Focus on positive self-talk. It’s powerful!

Feeling sad, hopeless, or helpless is understandable during times of staying at home. It might help just to sit outside or focus on your breathing a couple of times each day. ASRM also offers resources for coping with COVID-19.

The National Infertility Association, aka RESOLVE, offers an online support community, local support groups that meet virtually, webinars and content to help you connect and stay informed.

If you’d like a referral to a mental health specialist, call us at (401) 441-5336.

Coronavirus’s effect on infertility treatments & ASRM guidelines

It may help to remember that what makes fertility care so special is also what makes it risky during COVID-19: the close person-to-person interaction. A course of IVF, for instance, involves nearly daily face-to-face engagement with nurses, phlebotomists, ultrasound technicians, doctors, lab technicians, receptionists and office staff.

It takes a village to make a baby, and we have to protect that village for all of our sakes.

The Coronavirus/COVID-19 Task Force of ASRM is continually weighing “the risk of viral transmission to patients, physicians, and staff, and the utilization of critically needed healthcare resources against the time-sensitive nature of infertility.” And it issues bi-weekly recommendations to providers for downloading.

There is good news, however: no evidence exists showing that delaying treatments for a few months will affect your ability to have a child, even if age or diminished ovarian reserve are at play.

COVID-19 risks in early pregnancy are relatively unknown. There is an association with high fever and miscarriage, so if you do conceive you may want to be extra careful during the first trimester to avoid exposure to the virus.

Safety of frozen embryos, eggs and sperm

There is no imminent danger to cryopreserved eggs, sperm or embryos, according to SART. Clinics like ours adopt policies and procedures to rigorously maintain the security of the tanks of liquid nitrogen in which these tissues are stored. If you have any questions about our systems, please don’t hesitate to call (401) 441-5336 or contact us.

Uncertainty about resuming infertility treatment

Believe us when we say we want to be helping our patients continue on their treatment journeys. We’re stressed, too, wanting to care for our patients and doing the best we can to keep everyone safe and our practice running.

Once we hear from local, state and federal authorities that the likelihood of coronavirus transmission has been reduced and it is safe for medical practices to resume providing care, we will resume office visits, diagnostics, treatments and procedures.

Keep in touch with us, as this changes day to day

In the meantime, we continue to provide telephone visits for both existing and new patients. We are also here to refill medications, answer questions, update treatment plans and provide diagnostic testing. Call (401) 441-5336 to schedule an appointment.