Understanding The Mental Health Impact Of Infertility

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated May 26, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The journey to parenthood can involve numerous challenges, one of which may be infertility. The mental health effects of infertility can be vast and are often under-researched. Much of the medical focus of infertility tends to be directed toward diagnosis and physical treatment. Still, the resulting psychological stress can be substantial. In some cases, it can be equivalent to the level of stress associated with other major medical conditions, such as cancer and heart disease. Even so, the correlation between infertility and psychological distress is sometimes underestimated, potentially creating a gap in comprehensive patient care. An accessible and convenient way for individuals experiencing infertility to get professional support and guidance may be through an online therapy platform.

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo
Infertility can impact your mental health

The reality of infertility

Infertility can be defined as the inability to conceive despite having frequent, unprotected sex for at least a year. It's a challenge that often affects numerous couples around the world. The external effects of infertility might not be noticeable, but the internal effects can be profound. In some instances, infertility may create a cycle of stress, anxiety, and depression.

Infertility may introduce a level of uncertainty into the lives of affected individuals or couples, which can lead to persistent stress. This stress might arise from the cycle of hope and disappointment they may experience with each unsuccessful attempt at conception. In addition, the societal and personal expectations of parenthood can exacerbate this stress.

Mental health and infertility: A complex relationship

Understanding the complexity of this issue may require a deep dive into the relationship between mental health and infertility. Essentially, it can be a two-way street. That is, the stress of being unable to conceive can contribute to the development of mental health challenges. Meanwhile, pre-existing mental health disorders can further complicate fertility issues. This can manifest in various behaviors, like mood swings, loss of motivation, or changes in eating habits.

The psychological impact of infertility

The repercussions of infertility can extend beyond the physical body. The psychological impact may be even more significant, possibly leading to the formation of maladaptive habits like excessive worrying, social isolation, or unhealthy eating behaviors.

The role of habit formation in mental health

Habits can play a vital role in our lives. Some may even say they can make or break us, depending on whether the habits we adopt are healthy or destructive. With infertility, there may be a high likelihood of forming harmful habits as coping mechanisms. Understanding this concept may be crucial in mitigating the mental health impact of infertility.

Coping with infertility: Forming healthy habits

Perhaps one of the best ways to cope with the mental health impact of infertility is by forming new, healthy habits. This may require an understanding of the habit loop—a three-part process that includes the cue, routine, and reward—to develop desired behaviors.

Healthy habits to cultivate

Coping with infertility may require healthy habit-forming, which can promote mental well-being. Here are a few examples:

  • Exercise: Regular physical activity can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. This is a habit that could benefit people experiencing infertility.
  • Mindful eating: Paying attention to what and when you eat can help regulate your emotions and improve mental health.
  • Seeking support: Joining a support group, seeing a therapist, or simply talking to friends can ease the emotional burden of infertility.

Addressing maladaptive habits

Perhaps just as important as forming new habits is addressing and dismantling any destructive habits that may have formed due to infertility. These might include poor sleep patterns, unhealthy eating habits, or self-isolation. Recognizing these habits is often the first step toward changing them.

The power of motivation

It may also be helpful to remember the power of motivation. Motivation is often the driving force behind habit formation. In the context of infertility, it can serve as a beacon of hope and resilience, inspiring you to form healthy habits that may contribute to improved mental health.

Shifting focus: Building a positive mindset

One aspect of managing the mental health impact of infertility could be building a positive mindset. Although it might seem challenging given the circumstances, it may be important to remember that our behavior often reflects our mindset.

Discussing infertility often brings an emotional burden, which could lead to a pessimistic outlook. However, shifting our focus toward the positive can significantly change our everyday lives. Recognizing small victories, such as managing stress or adhering to a new exercise routine, for example, can sometimes boost our spirits.

The science of habit-forming: Cue, routine, reward

Understanding the science of habit formation can be beneficial in creating new habits and correcting problematic ones. The habit loop generally consists of three steps: the cue, the routine, and the reward.

The cue typically triggers your brain to initiate a behavior. It can be seen as the prompt leading to the routine. The routine can be defined as the action you take or the habit itself. 

Finally, the reward can be seen as the benefit gained from performing the behavior. It usually helps your brain recognize a pattern worth remembering.

With this understanding, you can identify the cues and rewards related to any maladaptive habits that may have formed due to infertility stress. For instance, emotional eating might be a common coping mechanism. 

Recognizing the cue (feeling stressed or upset) and the reward (temporary comfort) can help in devising a new, healthier routine in response to the cue (such as meditation or a short walk) that leads to a similar reward (feeling comforted or distracted).

Reclaiming control through desired behaviors

Infertility can make it seem as though you've lost control over your life. It may be helpful to remember that you have the power to regain control through desired behaviors. In other words, you may not be able to control infertility, but you can control how you react to it.

By focusing on small, manageable changes to your behavior, you can gradually build a more controlled and positive life despite the challenges. Starting a new hobby, maintaining a gratitude journal, or dedicating time to self-care could be helpful. When consistently followed, these small steps can lead to habit formation that positively influences mental health.

Embracing healthy habits: The road to healing

Embracing healthy habits is not necessarily just about physical health. It can also be a pathway toward mental healing. For example, when coping with infertility, self-care habits like adequate sleep, a nutritious diet, regular exercise, and mindful practices can significantly impact mental health.

Developing positive habits usually takes time, patience, and self-compassion. Consider being gentle with yourself during this journey. There may be moments of regression, but they don’t necessarily indicate failure. They can merely be part of the process.

A woman in a t-shirt sits on the couch with a cup of coffee in her hands as she hazes off sadly out of a window.
Getty/Delmaine Donson

The benefits of therapy for infertility

While complex and multi-faceted, the journey through infertility can also serve as a unique path toward personal growth and resilience. Experiences of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty may indeed accompany this journey. Still, it may be important to remember that resources are available to help manage these emotions. Therapy, for example, can provide support for those experiencing infertility, as well as offer various other benefits.

Emotional support and understanding

Therapy can offer a safe and non-judgmental space for individuals and couples to express their feelings openly. Therapists are generally licensed mental health professionals who understand the intricacies of emotions tied to infertility. As a result, they can provide much-needed empathy and support during this difficult time.

Stress management

The strain that comes with infertility can escalate stress levels. However, therapists can equip individuals with practical tools and techniques to manage stress effectively. This may involve mindfulness exercises, breathing techniques, or cognitive-behavioral strategies, for instance.

Improved communication

Infertility can strain relationships, potentially causing communication breakdowns between partners. Therapy can aid in facilitating open and healthy conversations. In therapy, couples can fully express feelings and concerns, which can foster mutual understanding and strengthen the relationship.

Coping mechanisms

Perhaps a major benefit of therapy is learning coping mechanisms to handle difficult emotions. Therapists can help individuals develop healthy habits, such as regular exercise, journaling, or mindfulness, that can become effective coping strategies.

Self-esteem and confidence

Infertility can often impact an individual’s self-esteem and confidence. Therapists can help individuals regain their sense of self-worth and positivity, despite their circumstances.

The effectiveness of therapy: Validated by scientific research

Therapeutic interventions can effectively manage the psychological distress associated with infertility. Various types of therapy exist to treat the mental health effects of this condition. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) tends to be a popular therapeutic approach that can successfully reduce psychological distress in individuals experiencing infertility. Through CBT, individuals can learn to identify and manage negative thought patterns, which may significantly improve their overall mental well-being.

Mindfulness-based therapy

Mindfulness-based therapy is another well-researched method that shows promise in treating the effects of infertility on well-being. This type of therapy usually aims to help individuals focus on the present moment, which can enable them to better manage stress and anxiety. Infertile individuals who have undergone mindfulness-based programs typically report less anxiety and depression, as well as an overall enhanced quality of life.

Acceptance and commitment therapy

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) has been identified as another potentially effective therapeutic intervention. ACT usually focuses on enhancing psychological flexibility and accepting thoughts and feelings rather than trying to alter them. This can lead to improved mental health outcomes in those experiencing infertility.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Infertility can impact your mental health

Benefits of online therapy

Online therapy is often a more convenient treatment option for people experiencing infertility. These individuals are often juggling multiple medical appointments at once, so finding time for an in-person therapy appointment could prove to be challenging. Online therapy for infertility may provide an accessible solution to this treatment barrier.

Effectiveness of online therapy

The effectiveness of online therapy has frequently been confirmed through research. Specifically, online therapeutic interventions can be beneficial for infertile individuals and couples, although additional research may be warranted. 


Infertility can significantly impact mental health, affecting individuals' everyday lives and habitual behaviors. It can sometimes lead to the development of maladaptive habits and have a negative impact on motivation. By gaining a deeper understanding of habit formation, individuals can learn to develop new, healthier habits to manage this difficult circumstance. If you’re experiencing infertility and need support, consider working with a licensed therapist in person or online.

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