Mind-Body Health: The Connection to Fertility
The mind has a powerful influence over the functions of the body. What you think, how you feel emotionally, and what you believe, directly affects your health and can also help you to navigate the infertility journey.
Fight or Flight Response
It is a well-established fact that when you feel threatened, there are measurable changes in your body related to the release of the hormone, cortisol, that is automatically triggered. These hormone changes cause an increase in your heart rate and your breathing rate and enables you to mobilize all of your resources to either fight or flee the threatening situation. In a truly dangerous situation – such as a threatened assault or a car accident, this response is highly functional. The problem is that many people react in this same way to situations that are only perceived to be dangerous, and some are in a constant state of high anxiety that keeps their heart rates, blood pressure, and respiration rates at a very high level. This may contribute to serious health conditions.
The History of the Mind-Body Program
Mind-body medicine was pioneered by cardiologist and Harvard Medical School professor, Dr. Herbert Benson. In the 1960s and 1970s, Dr. Benson established a scientific basis for the mind-body connection by studying the effects of stress on blood pressure. At the time, the idea that stress could affect physical health was not accepted in medical circles. Through his research, Dr. Benson discovered that meditation resulted in a physiologic response that seemed opposite to the “fight or flight” response and resulted in decreased metabolism, and a reduced rate of breathing, heart rate and brain activity. He named these changes the “Relaxation Response” (RR).
There are two simple steps needed to elicit the RR, which disrupt the train of every day thought and may shift your physiology:
A repetitive focus (word, phrase, prayer, movement, sound)
Letting go of intruding thoughts and returning to the repetitive focus
In 1998, Dr. Benson established the first Mind Body Medical Institute at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. In 2006, it was integrated into Mass General Hospital (MGH) as the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine. Dr. Benson’s techniques can be applied to a wide variety of health conditions including fertility.
Benefits of Mind-Body Practices for Fertility
Dr. Benson’s RR techniques can be applied to a wide variety of health conditions including fertility. There are several studies that have shown that mind-body interventions for fertility may improve a wide variety of physical symptoms, coping and mood. To the extent that stress may be have a negative impact on outcomes, if you can remove any of those factors, it may enhance chances for success.
Recently, CCRM Boston fertility specialist, Dr. Aaron Styer and Mind-Body specialist Leslee Kagan, MS, FNP, were involved in a pilot study involving 41 women attending the Mind Body Program for Health and Fertility at the Benson-Henry Institute at MGH. The participants experienced significant improvements in mood (depressive symptoms and perceived stress) and an increase in social support
What patients have shared about their perceived benefits of Mind-Body practices
After completing the mind-body program, most people feel they leave with a set of skills they can draw upon to better cope with treatments, outcomes, and choices regarding their own journey to parenthood. For some, the programs can be life-changing.