When the GP called with my blood test results she confirmed (surprisingly to me) that my hormone levels were all perfectly normal except for my prolactin levels, which we just above the normal range. Prolactin tends to rise in response to physiological stimuli which prompted my GP to ask whether I was experiencing any stress at work, going through any life events or undertaking strenuous exercise. I had spent the previous year tearing my hair out in my new job, I was in the process of buying my first house and I was training for a marathon in which I wanted a faster time then my legs could possibly carry me. Err, yes, that could be it. She advised me to work on my stress.
Impact of stress on fertility
Although there appears to be no direct research to say that stress causes infertility, stress hormones can impact on the proper and balanced function of your endocrine (hormone) system which can in turn effect the regularity of your cycles. The Natural Fertility Info website discusses this in more detail and more eloquently then my efforts.
I notice that stress can, in particular, delay ovulation in my cycles. Stress on my body is not always noticeable as me 'feeling stressed' and I have come to realise that other physiological stressors also have an impact on my cycle, such as illness or long distance travel. I now think about stress are widely as anything that puts a real strain on my body or mind.
Putting aside my natural reaction (of becoming stressed about being stressed) I committed to 4 actions.
1) Meditation app Headspace
A meditation app that is all about taking ten minutes a day 'for you'. I do a session on my train into work each morning. It is just me, numerous sweaty London commuters and Andy, the narrating ex Buddist monk with a shaved head and totally ripped body. The first ten sessions of Headspace are free to trial and then later as you become more experienced you can chose from a selection of mediation packs such as stress, balance, sleep and acceptance. There is even a pack for pregnancy. Fingers crossed I will need that one day. You can also link your account to your 'buddies' and track each others' progress. It allows me to be secretly competitive with my friend Lucy, who (unknown to her) I was racing to reach 200 meditation sessions. She lost, although she doesn't know it, sucker! It may not be in keeping with the spirit of meditation, but you can't always be zen and a winner.
2) Scheduled sleep
In a regression to my childhood days I now have a set 'bedtime'. At 10 pm I pootle off up the stairs and take myself to bed. I set my alarm for the same time every morning and my body is now used to its new sleep pattern. I have had to be strict with myself, and it doesn't always work out, but whenever possible that is what happens. I feel that it has made a world of difference to my levels of energy and my general health. More on setting a sleep schedule here.
3) Breathing techniques
4) Keeping a journal
Yep, I've gone there. I have started keeping a journal of my inner most thoughts and feelings. Most of it is utter dross, but as mum defensively declares when she accidentally farts, 'it's better out than in'. I'm hoping that by writing it down I can work through any blockages and issues in my mind, like a self administered, gentle therapy. And there is evidence that journalling has health benefits, both physically and mentally.
Life Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest
I require structure to underpin my journalling efforts, otherwise I spend 5 minutes writing about the first thing in my mind, which is invariably what I plan to eat for breakfast. The journalling book that I have been using to keep me on track is Christina Baldwin's Life Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest. This is undoubtedly on the hippy end of the scale but I am thoroughly enjoying it and feel like it is beneficial to making space in my crowded mind.
Five Minute Journal
Another great journal for increasing daily focus and levels of gratitude (and therefore happiness) is the Five Minute Journal with a good description of what to expect from the journal here. It is less soul searching than Life Companion, so although it may make you happier, which is a big step forward, it may not help you to deal with the stress of struggling with infertility.
Changing my mindset on infertility
Another key aspect of journalling for me has been understanding what I think and feel about my (in)fertility. I sincerely believe that our beliefs make a difference and can have a clear impact on our psychical state. Naomi Judd was spot on that 'your body hears everything your mind says' and my mind can be a bit of an arse. For more on the science of how thoughts and perception of the environment in which you live impacts on your biology, I found the podcast episode The World is Your Petri Dish with epigenetics and stem cell researcher Bruce Lipton on Bulletproof radio to be enlightening (available to download for free here (18.06.2016)).
The Natural Fertility Info website has a number of questions to journal your way through to gain a better understanding of the beliefs underpinning your fertility. I went through the 9 questions on this webpage, along with where I think the belief comes from and whether I agree with it. It turns out that I had very strong negative beliefs about some aspects of my fertility, but with no firm reasoning behind it.