Stress and Fertility
A Touchy Subject
Ahh, take a deep breathe! This is a tough one, and it could be one of the puzzle pieces to your fertility. It always bothered me when someone suggested that I “just need to relax” because when you are going through this it seems impossible to be in a relaxed state of mind. There is nothing relaxing about being thrown into the medical realm of infertility. You are inexperienced, unaware of what is wrong with you, and overwhelmed with all of the decisions and lifestyle changes you may have to make. I think we should immediately get assigned a “Fertility Specialist or Advocate” to walk you through this journey into the “unknown”.
You are in panic mode and anxious that your most fundamental and innate dream to become a mother may never come true. It is next to impossible to fight the need to have this desire fulfilled. On top of that, you have the financial stressors of infertility, relationship challenges, major self-doubt, sadness and social challenges/isolation. Your entire life has been turned upside down.
I know there is nothing worse than someone telling you that you need to relax, but I am have been there, so let me help you realize how important it is to incorporate some things in your life to help you relax.
First let’s learn the facts!
Research has shown that women undergoing treatment for infertility have a similar, and often higher, level of stress as women dealing with life-threatening illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. (1)
Wow. That is empowering- we are not imagining it, being weak, or dramatic. This is a disease of the reproductive system that warrants getting some peer-support, professional support, and to practice some serious self-care through relaxation activities.
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine reports that “infertile couples experience chronic stress each month, first hoping that they will conceive and then dealing with the disappointment if they do not. When diagnosed with infertility, many couples may no longer feel in control of their bodies or their life plan. Infertility can be a major crisis because of the important life goal of parenthood is threatened.” It sucks you are here and this is your reality (right now), but at least you can understand the level of pain this brings all couples so that you don’t blame yourself, hold on to shame and stay in a negative mindset. Instead, you need to seek out resources, get the support you need, and create a self-care plan that feels good for you. You are not alone!
Emory University’s Dr. Sarah Berga describes the link between stress and infertility with the fact that the hypothalamus is fertility’s “master of ceremonies”. The hypothalamus handles BOTH stress and the functioning of our reproductive system. This means that every month there is a very delicate interaction of hormones leading to successful ovulation. Well, isn’t that just great! Why does that balance have to be so important, yet so difficult to achieve? Just know there is nothing wrong with you, you are not being weak, this is science and it is a difficult balance for all women experiencing infertility- because infertility brings on stress! So in order to keep your hormone levels balanced you will need to adopt some relaxation and stress-reduction techniques.
Here are more interesting findings from Dr. Berga: (2)
- A cascade of events, beginning with stress, leads to reduced levels of two hormones crucial for ovulation.
- In a study of 16 women, Dr. Berga showed that ovulation was restored in 7 of 8 women who underwent cognitive behavioral therapy, compared with 2 of 8 who did not get therapy. (3)
- She reported that women who did not ovulate had excessive levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in the brain fluid. (4)
Thank you Dr. Berga for being a forward-thinking researcher, educator and advocate for women. Those studies are are a great thing. It is proven that we can improve our fertility by controlling our stress levels. It is crucial actually. So now we know the facts, let’s learn what we can do to control our stress levels. You can adopt a few that speak to you or make a plan to incorporate all of them. All of these contributed to my healing, clarity and fertility during my journey.
- Meditation: Stress stimulates production of cortisol, which decreases the monthly surge of luteinizing hormone (LH) which is responsible for triggering ovulation. Meditation reduces cortisol levels. It also reduces insulin resistance and improves sex hormone balance, all of which equally contribute to one’s fertility. (5)
- Yoga: Studies show that yoga can help reduce stress, balance hormones, increase blood flow to reproductive organs, encourage a more positive mindset and may increase libido. (6)
- Positive Affirmations: Tell yourself positive things! Think positively about what you are capable of achieving. This works.
- Counseling: Who doesn’t feel better after talking out an issue or problem?
- Peer-Support Group: It is proven that women that seek peer-support feel better about their struggle they are facing. You know you’re not alone.
- Journaling: Work through your feelings, and gain clarity.
- Gratitude: A grateful attitude about what you do have in life will help you feel better. One day at a time.
- Getting Outdoors: “Shinrin-yoku” is the name given to the Japanese art of “forest bathing”. They are contemplative walks through the woods that re-connect you with nature and can lead to decreased levels of stress, natural mood elevation and even a stronger immune system.
- Exercise: Regular, moderate exercise has been shown to increase circulation, reduce stress, prevent depression and anxiety, while promoting regular detoxification of excess hormones and toxins in the body.
- Alternative therapies: Such as massage, reiki, reflexology, and acupuncture. Some have more evidence based support than others, but all of these should be considered to improve your holistic fertility health.
- Let Go, but Have a Plan: Another complicated balance. Take control of the things you can and trust others will fall into place.
Keep checking in with Fertility Moxie for more resources and ways to relax!
(1) According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
(2) article “A Low-Tech Approach to Fertility: Just Relax”
(3) 2003, Journal of Fertility and Sterility
(4) 2006, in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism
(5) Kelly LeGendre Three Ways Meditation Can Improve Your Fertility Feb. 2017