02/23/2018 17:08 EST | Updated 02/23/2018 17:09 EST

4 Ways To Take Care Of Your Mental Health When Struggling With Infertility

Because your emotional well-being shouldn't be neglected.

Undergoing an infertility journey is exhausting on so many levels: financially, physically and emotionally.

While juggling the stress of it all, it can be easy to forget about your mental health, but paying attention to your emotional well-being is crucial to helping you get through this challenging time.

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"The reality of the situation is that there's only so much you can do to make this happen, and there's only so much doctors can do," Toronto psychologist Dr. Stacy Thomas told HuffPost Canada in a phone interview.

"A big part of [infertility is] that it's outside of your control. So what happens is self-blame, feelings of ineffectiveness, comparing themselves to everybody else. There's a whole experience of negative thinking that will increase stress and lead them down the road to depression."

There are a number of factors that put people at risk of depression if they're struggling with infertility, but the most common include feelings of isolation and grief. The former is a result of keeping struggles private, and the latter is a result of the losses that can be experienced along the way, said Thomas.

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Anxiety is another common mental health issue experienced by those facing fertility challenges.

"The experience of trying to get pregnant puts you in a state where you're constantly planning, thinking ahead," Thomas explained.

"It's very hard to stay in the present moment and that can lead to anxiety in itself. There is also anxiety about whether or not it works, a lot of worry about once you've had the procedure, are you pregnant or not pregnant? [And] if you've already suffered a loss, or been through a procedure that hasn't worked, that stays at the forefront of a lot of people's minds."

Because infertility can take such a toll on people's emotional well-being, it's important for those struggling to pay attention to their mental health. Dr. Thomas suggests four things people can do to improve their mental well-being during this stressful time.

1. Always keep an open dialogue with your partner

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While infertility affects everyone, and every couple, differently, Thomas said she often witnesses heterosexual couples get distant during their journey — and that doesn't help anyone.

"In our society, we don't really teach men, in particular, how to deal with difficult emotions and their assumption is that they need to try and fix it," the psychologist said. "And if they can't fix it, either they get frustrated or they get really quiet."

As a result, the man ends up in a supportive role because he thinks his partner won't be able to handle his emotions on top of her own, Thomas explained.

"It's counterproductive because the woman ends up feeling isolated. And when the man does share his emotional turmoil, she actually feels closer to him and then they can feel like they're going to get through it together."

2. Develop a mindful practice

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With all the planning and worry that comes with infertility, Thomas suggests having a mindful practice to help keep you in the present moment, even if you only do it for 10 minutes a day.

While yoga and meditation are the obvious examples, Thomas said that something as simple as soaking in your surroundings at a park or focusing on tasting your food can be really beneficial.

"Find places in your life where you can tune in to what is happening right now," she advised. "That in itself has a calming effect on your nervous system [and] helps ground us in our space and time."

This also helps us "learn to create space for ourselves where we can actually observe," she said. "If we can get perspective, we're in a better position to respond to our stress as opposed to staying in this reactive state."

3. Find a support system that works for you

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Thomas stressed the importance of finding a community or support group that feels right.

"Sometimes when people engage in support groups, it can feel a little overwhelming if it's not moderated properly [or] if it's a lot of complaints without many solutions or helpful support," she said. "So choose your support wisely for what makes sense for you at that time."

For instance, Oshawa, Ont. mom Myra Garrett found her support system on Instagram.

"I didn't seek any counselling because I felt like there was some kind of secret shame to being unable to conceive, but I did find support groups online, especially through Instagram," she previously told HuffPost Canada.

4. Don't be afraid to seek professional help at any stage of your journey

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Mental health professionals can provide support, education and strategies to help people cope during this difficult time. And, as Thomas noted, it doesn't matter where you are in your infertility journey — whether you've just been diagnosed or have had three failed procedures — there's no shame in seeking professional help.

"I've actually had a couple of people approach me that have had an initial scare around pregnancy loss and realized that they don't feel like they have tools or strategies [to cope]," Thomas revealed.

"They're just getting a taste that this is going to be a really difficult road and they're being proactive to learn things to look out for and how they can support each other. I'm really encouraged when I see that because that's when you're really empowering yourself."

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One in six Canadian couples are affected by infertility, and while there's still a stigma attached to it, it's important to remember that you're not alone and that there are resources available to help navigate this difficult time.

"Being diagnosed with infertility is like being told you've been diagnosed with cancer. The levels of stress experienced is around that level," Thomas said. "This is not an ordinary thing, so what I would love for people to recognize is that this is not business as usual at all. [You] really need to be taking utmost care of [yourself], putting self-care at the forefront and [understand] that there's no harm in learning mental health strategies that you can be implementing as soon as possible."

"Don't wait for that third procedure that doesn't work," she said. "Why not equip yourself? You can't lose in that situation. It can only make you better."

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