Overall physical health is a cornerstone of fertility health. And, as fertility specialists, we also honor that a person’s mental and emotional well-being also impacts their physical health. That’s why we’re particularly interested in the continuing findings of Harvard’s multi-generational study, proving that social connections notably – and positively – impact overall health.
It’s no mystery that those who have lower stress levels also have lower risks for stress-related health conditions. We also know that married men and women tend to live longer than those who live alone.
However, it wasn’t until Harvard University published their findings linking positive/quality social connections to overall health and well-being (including longevity) that physicians are really waking up to the reality that asking about our patients’ social fitness is just as important as verifying their physical fitness.
Harvard started their long-term research on adults’ physical and mental well-being nearly 80 years ago. Since then, the study has continued – including second and third generations of participants. Overall, they found that social connection (what they call social fitness) is the primary indicator of a person’s “happiness” level – and that satisfying human-to-human relationship also correlate to better physical health and longer life expectancy.
This surprised the researchers. Lead researcher Robert Waldinger said:
At first, we didn’t believe it; we were wondering how this could be possible. We thought, ‘It makes sense that if you have happy relationships, you’ll be happier, but how could the quality of your relationships make it more or less likely that you would get coronary artery disease or Type 2 diabetes or arthritis?’ We thought maybe this isn’t a real finding, maybe it’s by chance. Then other research groups began to find the same thing. Now it is a very robust finding. It’s very well established that interpersonal connectedness, and the quality of those connections, really impact health, as well as happiness.
This information is important to us as physicians, but it’s especially important to us as fertility specialists. Those health conditions also affect fertility, as does the underlying inflammation that exacerbates many of the most common health conditions linked to infertility.
As someone struggling with fertility, your social connections are essential to providing the support and emotional bolstering you need to get you through this journey. So, we want to ensure you’re doing all you can to stay socially fit – fostering healthy, high-quality relationships that improve health and well-being.
Having relationships with others doesn’t necessarily mean you’re socially fit. The kinds of relationships Harvard was talking about are those that are healthy, reciprocal, and fulfilling.
Healthy relationships mean things like:
- You can be completely yourself and receive unconditional acceptance.
- Your boundaries are respected (you can say “no,” when you need to take care of yourself without feeling guilty or paying a price).
- There is a general flow of give and take.
- You don’t have to take care of the other person’s feelings.
- Your dreams, goals, and lifestyle choices are supported without judgment or trying to change your mind.
On the other hand, toxic relationships are characterized by things like:
- Feeling more drained than fulfilled after hanging out with someone.
- You are the giver, and they’re the taker – most of the time.
- You can’t say, “no thank you,” or, “I have to cancel because I need a calendar break,” without facing judgment, receiving a guilt trip, or being “punished.”
- Everything always goes back to them – including them “topping” or “exceeding” everything you share or experience.
- You’re more likely to receive judgment, criticism, or “you shoulds…” rather than support when sharing something they don’t support or agree with.
- They’re controlling, manipulative, jealous, or dishonest.
- When you’re with them, you walk on eggshells rather than resting in the comfort of who you are.
Take stock of your relationships. Eliminate or minimize time with people who fall into the toxic category while focusing on and building relationships that fall into the healthy side of things.
Hopefully, you have someone other than your partner to vent or emote to about your infertility journey. However, if that person hasn’t actually walked the same walk, their support may feel hollow at times. Or, no matter how good of a job they do, deep down, you’re thinking, “You have NO idea what I’m actually going through…”
Patients using fertility treatments deserve empathetic connections and support from others who’ve walked the same walk. We highly recommend seeking fertility support in your area or asking your fertility specialist about support groups or online outlets where you can connect with people who truly understand your experience first-hand.
Partnerships take a beating when you’re running the fertility gauntlet. It’s easy for romance to go from the passenger seat to the back seat, into the trunk – and then far behind the rearview mirror. If romance, connection, and intimacy feel like they’re more like history than present-day reality, it’s time to prioritize your relationship.
We understand that it might not feel realistic to have a thriving sex life right now – you have a lot on your collective plates. However, there are so many ways to foster connection, fun, and intimacy that go beyond the bedroom and support your emotional and mental health.
Now that we know fostering supportive connections optimizes fertility health, we’ll be checking in on our patient’s social fitness. Interested in working with fertility specialists who take a full-spectrum approach to fertility care and cultivate heart-to-heart connections with our patients? Schedule your fertility consultation with Fertility Solutions.