Talk Therapy Newest Hope For Treating One Physical Side Effect Of Holiday Blues
Physicians at Indiana's largest group of reproductive medical specialists are encouraged by new research pointing toward an age-old but often overlooked treatment for one annual healthcare phenomenon -- the year-end holiday blues, which doctors say can actually have physical effects on the body's reproductive system.
According to mental health counselors, many couples unable to conceive anticipate the holidays with dread. "For them, the end of the year becomes another marker in their inability to have children," said Deidra T. Rausch, Ph.D., L.M.F.T., an Indiana counselor specializing in infertility. "Plus, the seasonal emphasis on family can become a painful reminder of their ongoing struggles."
Fertility physicians believe that reducing stress is key for many infertility patients, with potential for both mental and physical benefits. On the physical side, stress signals the pituitary gland that the body is in trouble, said Laura Reuter, M.D., medical director at Midwest Fertility Specialists.
"This can slow the release of the luteinizing hormone, which in turn triggers ovulation," Reuter said. "Even if ovulation occurs, a shortage of the luteinizing hormone could mean a lower level of progesterone, a hormone necessary to nourish and sustain an embryo's implantation and early development."
However, now comes scientific evidence strongly supporting a common treatment that may be under-utilized: talk therapy. Research from Emory University presented at a major European fertility conference in Prague showed that stress-related infertility could be reversed with such therapy. Among those who participated in a course of cognitive behavior therapy and relaxation techniques, six of the eight women regained full fertility, with one showing some signs of restored ovarian function and two later became pregnant within two months. The eight women who received no treatment, one recovered her fertility while another showed signs of ovarian function.
According to research firm Wirthlin Worldwide, 43 percent of women ages 18 to 34 reported an increase in stress during the holidays, while 37 percent of men 18 to 34 did. In addition, almost 52 percent of the women, ages 35 to 54, said their stress levels go up during the holidays and 40 percent of surveyed men in the same age bracket said their stress levels increase with the holidays.
"Infertility treatment that incorporates the services of a mental health professional can help patients alleviate persistent feelings of depression or anxiety, improve diminished self-esteem, and lead patients to strengthen their marital relationship and return to a satisfying sexual life," said Rausch, who practices at The Cabin: A Family Counseling & Resource Center in Zionsville, Ind.
RESOLVE, The National Infertility Association, offers couples the following tips to cope with the holidays: