Mind-Body Therapies for Fertility and Stress Reduction

Could mind-body therapies help you conceive? Mind-body medicine refers to the connection between our mental and physical health. We know that stress can cause a variety of ailments, both physical and emotional. We also know that chronic illnesses, like infertility, lead to tremendous stress, which then may lead to depression or anxiety.

Mind-body medicine offers you a way to better cope with the stress of infertility and fertility treatments.

While much more research needs to be done, some studies have reported improved pregnancy rates for couples involved in mind-body programs. Even in the studies where pregnancy rates were not looked at, the participant's emotional well-being was improved.

Some believe that the mind can have a profound effect on the body and our health, going as far as to say that the mind can heal the body. You do not need to believe in this aspect of mind-body medicine to benefit from it.

Most mind-body practitioners see mind-body medicine as a way to lower stress and improve quality of life and not as a way to actually "cure" a disease or illness.

Mind-body medicine may also be called body-mind-spirit medicine, mind-body-spirit medicine, integrative medicine, or holistic care. Some consider mind-body medicine a form of alternative medicine, though it's commonly used alongside conventional treatments.

There are many different mind-body therapies, some more popular than others. Here are 12 mind-body therapies to consider, along with a brief explanation of how they may help you.


Yoga for Fertility

Women stretching before yoga class in studio
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Yoga combines physical postures, called asanas, and breathing practices, called pranayama, to create a meditative and relaxing exercise. Yoga has been used for healing purposes for over 5,000 years. While the original yoga includes an entire philosophy, the Western version of yoga is typically light on the spiritual aspects. You can be any religion (or an atheist, for that matter) and practice yoga.

Yoga for fertility is rapidly gaining popularity. There are specially-made yoga for fertility DVDs and books, as well as yoga studios offering fertility-friendly yoga classes.

Not much research has been done on yoga and fertility.

One small study looked at yoga’s impact on the emotional health of women awaiting IVF treatment. After participating in a six-week yoga program, participants experienced a decrease in anxiety and depression symptoms, and an improvement in their fertility-related quality of life.

Of course, to benefit from the relaxation and feel-good vibes that yoga has to offer, you don't have to sign up for a fertility-focused yoga class. Any yoga class that emphasizes relaxation and is not extremely competitive should work.

Look for gentle or restorative yoga to get the maximum relaxation effect.


Acupuncture for Fertility

Acupuncture Needles and Tealights
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Acupuncture is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Acupuncturists believe that "energy" flows along specific meridians on the body and that by stimulating particular points along these meridians, the energy can be balanced and lead to better health and well-being.

While acupuncture is a form of alternative energy medicine, it is also a mind-body therapy because it induces deep relaxation and emotional release. You do not need to believe in the energy explanation to benefit from acupuncture.

Much research has been done on the connection between fertility and acupuncture, and this may be the most commonly used mind-body therapy of IVF patients.

Some studies have found improved pregnancy rates among women who use acupuncture, while others have not. Almost all agree though that acupuncture reduces stress and helps people relax.


Meditation for Fertility

Woman meditating in her bedroom
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Meditation involves gently encouraging the mind to move away from the typically rushed, worrying state, and instead come into a calmer, more relaxed, focused state of being.

Some people mistakenly believe that meditation is about "clearing the mind" of all thoughts, but that is only one kind of meditative practice.

Meditation can also be about letting your thoughts flow without trying to stop or focus on one specific idea. Or, meditation can be about focusing on your breathing or repeating quietly a specific mantra (a meaningful word or phrase).

Meditation is not a common part of mind-body fertility programs and not much research has been done specifically about infertility.

However, a good deal of research has been done on the relaxation effect of meditation and how it can help those dealing with chronic illnesses feel more focused and calm.


Guided Imagery for Fertility

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Guided imagery is a form of guided meditation. Guided imagery involves closing the eyes, and listening to either a therapist or a recording guide you through a relaxation exercise that is rich in imagined images. It's sort of like guided daydreaming.

The imagery may be very simple, like imagining breathing in a specific color or imagining you're in a calming, relaxing place, like a beach or forest. Or, the imagery can be more complicated and involve imagining the body or mind releasing specific hormones or visualizing conception and a growing embryo.

There are fertility-specific guided imagery programs available, the two most popular being Circle Plus Bloom and Health Journey's Help with Fertility.

Circle Plus Bloom is unique in that it includes a different guided meditation for each day of your menstrual cycle or treatment cycle.

Help with Fertility does not have a specific meditation for each day of the cycle, but it does include three different guided meditations: one for conception and/or adoption, one for general relaxation and to help with uncomfortable medical procedures, and one for letting go if you decide to stop pursuing parenthood.

While there's no research on fertility and guided imagery yet, there have been many research studies on guided imagery use in cancer patients and trauma patients. Guided imagery can help you feel calmer and less anxious, something all couples dealing with infertility could benefit from.


Prayer and Spirituality for Fertility

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Prayer and spirituality can have a profound effect on the mind, providing hope and support for strong believers. Some people who experience infertility have always been religious, and their beliefs give them added strength. Others weren't interested in prayer but turn towards a higher power in the midst of their struggle.

Some studies have found that people who engage in religious beliefs and activities, including prayer and communal gatherings, have lower rates of depression. Regular prayer can help with anxiety and act as a meditation.

There have been studies on whether or not prayer can actually "heal", with conflicting results.

Some studies report that prayer has the power to heal, while others found that prayer did not heal.

The power of prayer as a mind-body therapy is not whether or not it actually "works," but the connection to something larger than yourself, and the freedom to hope and feel supported.

There are religiously-oriented organizations for infertility support. Hannah's Prayer is a Christian fertility support organization. A. T.I.M.E. is an organization specifically for Jewish spiritual infertility support.

You may also be able to find a local support group for infertility through your place of worship, though some religious groups are less vocal about infertility. Speak to a member of the clergy at your place of worship.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Group Therapy for Fertility

Mental Health: Care and compassion
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Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a style of counseling that helps you replace negative thought patterns with more positive, realistic ones. CBT also includes learning deep relaxation and breathing techniques to reduce anxiety.

CBT has been shown in research studies to be one of the most effective therapies for people dealing with anxiety, and infertility patients often struggle with anxiety and worry.

There has been research on CBT and infertility, with a few small studies finding improved pregnancy rates in couples who go through CBT therapy.

Other studies have not found improved pregnancy rates but have found decreased rates of depression and anxiety.

One study found that CBT was a more effective treatment for depression than taking an anti-depressant.

Group therapy is another style of counseling that can help fertility patients. Typically, group therapy involves a group of individuals or couples with a similar struggle, sitting together and talking about their lives and concerns with the guidance of a certified counselor.

RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide "timely, compassionate support and information to people who are experiencing infertility," maintains regional chapters around the United States, and in many areas offers fertility support groups.

Many couples with infertility feel alone in their struggle, which increases the sense of hopelessness and depression. The support groups can reassure you that you are not alone, that other people do understand you, and provide a place where people "get" what you're going through.


Hypnosis for Fertility

Hypnotherapist with patient
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Hypnosis is a mind-body therapy that involves going into a light sleep-like state, called a trance, induced by a therapist or recording of relaxation instructions. Once in this state, the mind is highly suggestible. The therapist helps the patient change negative thought patterns by suggesting alternative ideas.

Hypnosis does not always involve the use of a therapist. Guided imagery can act as a kind of self-hypnosis.

There has been some preliminary research on the effect of hypnosis and fertility. One study found that hypnosis during embryo transfer (in IVF) led to increased treatment success rates. However, much more research needs to be done.

Another way hypnosis may be helpful to you is by dropping unhealthy habits. For example, obesity and smoking can lead to fertility problems. Research on hypnosis has found that it can help you lose weight or quit smoking. Hypnosis can also help reduce stress and anxiety.


Expressive Writing Therapy for Fertility

Woman at computer
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Anyone who has kept a blog or journal knows that writing out your feelings helps release them.

Expressive or writing therapy is a mind-body therapy that involves using the written word to help express and process difficult emotions.

The writing may take place in the context of a writing for healing group, or it may be part of one-on-one psychotherapy. Keeping a blog or journal between psychotherapy sessions is another possibility.

Blogging is described by some as informal therapy, and there is a very large network of infertility support through blogging.

If you enjoy writing down your thoughts and would like to not only like to write but also connect with others, you may want to consider starting a fertility-focused blog.


Art Therapy for Fertility

Markers and colored pens for drawing

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Engaging in creativity can be healing, even outside of the context of an official therapeutic venue.

But in the art therapies—art, music, dance or movement, and drama—artistic expression is combined with psychology to help heal emotional wounds.

You do not need to have any special skills or talents to use art therapies. It's not really about creating art in the aesthetic sense (though you may create beautiful art in the process). Instead, it's about using art to express and process emotions.

A small amount of research has been done on art therapy and fertility. The art therapies have been found to help women with infertility cope better with stress, anxiety, and hopelessness.

There are some holistic fertility programs that include art or movement therapy, but you don't have to use a fertility-focused therapist or group to gain from the art therapies.

While taking part in art therapy with a trained therapist is especially beneficial, don't discount the healing power of making your own art, music, or dance "therapy" at home. As an added bonus, it's a great excuse to spend some time and money on iTunes or in an art supply store near you.


Laughter for Fertility

woman laughing
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Laughter not only feels great—it's also good for your body!

You're probably familiar with at least one kind of humor therapy: the clowns who visit sick children in hospitals. But clowns don't have exclusive rights to humor therapy. Anything that gets you laughing is good for your mind and your body.

Research on laughter or humor therapy has found it can help boost mood, lower stress hormone levels, possibly improve immunity, and lower blood pressure. 

A very small study looked at the possible impact on humor and IVF success. In this study, professional clowns interacted with patients just after IVF embryo transfer.

The study found that those in the clowning group had a pregnancy success rate of 36.4%, compared to 20.2% in the control group. 

Sometimes, it's hard to get laughing on your own. Consider watching some stand-up comedy, a good funny movie, or hanging out with friends who know how to tickle your funny bone.

You may even want to consider a laughter yoga class. In laughter yoga, a group comes together and purposefully laughs.

At first, the laugh may feel forced, but soon, everyone is really laughing. 


Biofeedback for Fertility

man's hand with biofeedback sensors
Frances Twitty / Getty Images

Biofeedback is a method of relaxation training, which actually helps you see what's working and what's not.

With biofeedback, a therapist will monitor your heart rate, perspiration, muscle tension, brain waves, and other physiological stress markers, tracking them with a computer. The therapist will then help lead you through relaxation or meditation exercises, using the computer readings to help discover what works best for you to reduce stress.

While biofeedback is typically done with a therapist or medical professional, they also make-at-home biofeedback programs.

An informal method of biofeedback may include becoming more aware of your own body, without any computers or technology.

For example, noting that your muscles are tense or that your heart is racing, you'd know that you are becoming anxious or worried. You can then use relaxation techniques you've learned with a therapist or on your own to help calm your mind and body.

Some research has been done on infertility and biofeedback along with relaxation training. Studies have found that it can reduce stress and anxiety.

There are a few fertility mind-body programs that offer biofeedback therapies for fertility, though it's more common to find general relaxation training.


Nutritional Counseling

Grain Bowl with Peanut Sauce
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Eating right isn’t only about maintaining healthy body weight and looking good. It also may impact your ability to get pregnant and impact how you feel emotionally.

Some mind-body fertility programs offer nutritional counseling.

While the research is far from conclusive, many studies have found possible associations between what men and women eat and their fertility risk. Doctors are also discovering connections between diet and mental wellbeing.

In separate studies, fried foods, refined grains, and high sugar products have been found to increase the risk of female infertility, negatively impact sperm counts, and increase the risk of anxiety and depression.

Knowing what to eat and what’s healthy, however, isn’t always easy. This is especially true if you didn’t grow up eating healthy at home. Nutritional counseling can help. 

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By Rachel Gurevich, RN
Rachel Gurevich is a fertility advocate, author, and recipient of The Hope Award for Achievement, from Resolve: The National Infertility Association. She is a professional member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and has been writing about women’s health since 2001. Rachel uses her own experiences with infertility to write compassionate, practical, and supportive articles.