Infertility has the potential to impact every area of our lives in a number of ways, notably in its impact on our mental health. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so let’s take the opportunity to learn about how we can be better aware of and better protect our mental health as we shoulder the burden of infertility. Sometimes “mental health” can sound so broad that it is difficult to grasp what it means to protect it. A helpful framework for improving our mental health is the concept of dimensions of wellness. Challenges in any dimension of wellness can negatively impact our mental health and overall functioning; conversely, protections in a dimension of wellness can have a positive ripple effect on our overall functioning.
The Eight Dimensions of Wellness are: Emotional, Spiritual, Intellectual, Physical, Environmental, Financial, Occupational, and Social.
Infertility intersects with each of these dimensions, usually as a challenge to our overall functioning. Here are examples of these intersections for each of our dimensions of wellness:
Emotional Dimension: We are likely to experience sadness, anger, disillusionment, and other challenging emotions as we journey through infertility.
Spiritual Dimension: We may be faced with a season of spiritual dryness as a result of an infertility diagnosis; our prayer life may become complicated, and we may feel distanced from the religious communities that were once a source of belonging to us.
Intellectual Dimension: Focusing on the cross of infertility and all that it involves can leave us with brain fog; we may find ourselves distracted or struggling to make well-reasoned decisions.
Physical Dimension: We may find diagnostic tests invasive and painful; we may be asked by doctors to make overwhelming dietary or lifestyle changes to potentially improve our infertility.
Environmental Dimension: We may be asked by doctors to use organic products or avoid certain environmental toxins, and depending upon where we live, this may be difficult to access.
Financial Dimension: Diagnosing and treating infertility can be expensive! From tests to medications and supplements, to traveling far distances to see specialists, our bank accounts may take an uncomfortable hit.
Occupational Dimension: Our jobs may not afford us the flexibility to leave work for treatments or surgeries; our insurance benefits may not offer sufficient coverage for the appointments we need to diagnose and treat our infertility
Social Dimension: Friends and family may struggle to know how to support us, leaving us feeling lonely; we may withdraw from relationships for fear of others not understanding the burden of our infertility.
As you read these examples, you may have been thinking of an entirely different dimension of wellness that related to a particular example. That’s because the dimensions of wellness are like spokes on a wheel; if even one area is challenged, all of the areas are vulnerable. For example, if we find it too painful to be in a women’s Bible study full of moms, leaving that group may impact our social, emotional, and spiritual wellness all at once. Each dimension of wellness is very important, and it’s important to recognize and not minimize struggles in any of the dimensions. It’s also important to note that stressors can be cumulative. For example, we may take days off from work for a treatment or to take additional time to rest. While doing so is likely protective of our emotional health, over time, continued days off from work may result in financial stress or unwanted questions from our employers.
Lest we think the Dimension of Wellness is all about challenges and bad news, this framework also provides us structure as we consider ways to take better care of ourselves or receive better support in the eight areas. Self-care has become a cultural buzzword, which makes it lose some of its clarity and value. Self-care means meeting our needs through regular, deliberate actions we take to care for our overall wellness. Self-care is self-preserving, mindful, sustainable, compassionate, daily, and necessary. Self-care is not selfish, mindless, extravagant, competitive, occasional, or optional. Our self-care rituals will likely look different from person to person, because we each have unique needs, but a tiered approach helps us to develop strong self-care practices. We should consider what we can do to care for ourselves moment to moment, daily, weekly, and beyond. We should also develop self-care strategies and practices for each of the eight dimensions of wellness. Here are some general ideas:
Emotional Dimension: Practice daily affirmations that are accepting of your feelings.
Spiritual Dimension: Pray through a saint who experienced pain and suffering, or to whom you have a special connection.
Intellectual Dimension: Stimulate your brain to think about topics other than your infertility; watch a documentary, read a book, or even just use strategies called “mental grounding” to distract yourself.
Physical Dimension: Show compassion toward your body by breathing deeply and slowly as you apply scented lotion to your hands or feet.
Environmental Dimension: Take 10 minutes to declutter a room in your home so that your environment feels more relaxed.
Financial Dimension: If spending money on treatment causes you anxiety, take time with your spouse to revisit your budget, so you can make decisions based on actual numbers, rather than undefined worries.
Occupational Dimension: Identify how you express spiritual motherhood through your work, and affirm yourself regularly.
Social Dimension: Post your prayer requests or other thoughts to our Springs in the Desert private Facebook group for community support.
Hopefully these examples resonated with you. Take some time to reflect on how infertility intersects the dimensions of wellness in your own life. Take good care of yourself by making a self-care plan that specifically addresses the intersections of infertility and the dimensions of wellness in your life. If you need a structure or framework for reflecting and creating your plan, SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) has a helpful document for formulating your plan:
Please note: This information comes from a licensed mental health professional but is not a substitute for therapy, medication, or other mental health care.
Cayce is a mental health counselor and has been married to her sweet husband, Brian, since 2013. They are parents to one child in Heaven and run a miscarriage bereavement ministry at their parish. In her spare time, Cayce enjoys baking, singing, musical theatre, and snuggling her two cats.