Stress and Fertility: What You Need To Know
Is stress holding you back from getting pregnant, or is not getting pregnant stressing you out? Either way, many women are struggling with similar issues but don’t feel comfortable talking about it. Some don’t even realize how stressed they are on a daily basis, because they’re just so used to it!
Little things like not liking your job, having a long commute to work, unhealthy relationships, unresolved past trauma, even waking up abruptly in the morning can cause abnormal increases in cortisol (our stress hormone) throughout the day. Being oblivious to our stress level doesn’t mean the body doesn’t notice it! Stress and fertility are unfortunately related. Long-term stress leads to decreased pregnancy rates and unhealthy pregnancies after conception.
The Relationship Between Stress and Fertility
Both human and animal studies show a correlation between stress and fertility reduction2, 4. Yes, this includes stress from stressing about not getting pregnant. Finding healthy coping strategies to break this vicious cycle should be on top of your priority list.
Stress is sometimes associated with poor coping mechanisms, which expectedly, are detrimental to pregnancy rates. For example, alcohol, overeating, over-consumption of certain foods like caffeine and junk foods, substance abuse, smoking are common coping mechanisms people use to deal with stress.
Even though most of us have adapted and learned how to deal with stress throughout the years, stress still threatens fertility rate. Treating stress and giving it some attention certainly does improve pregnancy rates.
Stress is also associated with lower rates of egg production and quality in women receiving IVF treatment5. A study looking at the effect of a mind-body course on IVF treatment shows increased rates of pregnancy comparing to those who did not attend the course12.
Simple Tricks To Reduce Stress
Pranayama breathing: Prana literally means life force in Sanskrit, and ayama means way. It boosts the calming system (parasympathetic system) of our body and decreases our fight or flight responses (like when you’re being chased by a lion!). Both short-term and long-term benefits have been reserched7.
There are many forms of pranayama breathing; here is a simple and beginner-friendly version:
Diaphragmatic breathing: Living in a fast-paced world, we tend to breathe shallowly and ineffectively. Ideally, every inhale should fill up our chest and belly, with visible expansion in those areas of the body.
How to do it: sitting, standing, or lying down, inhale through the nose and feel your lungs and belly expand as the air travels down.
Allow your rib cage to expand as much as possible to enable maximum inhalation. Breathe in slowly and gently until you can no longer accommodate any more air, then exhale slowly through the mouth.
Feel the belly and ribs return to their resting position, and repeat.
Usually, inhale for 4 seconds and exhale for 5.
Another option is to inhale and exhale as described above, but hold in between.
So inhale for 4, hold for 3, then exhale for 5.
Do this at work, while watching TV, studying, reading, or whenever you’re self- aware. This is also a great breathing technique when doing meditation.
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years, more recent researches are validating its effects on the brain, mood, emotional, and physical health. A three-year follow-up study11 shows long-term benefits of meditation on anxiety.
Meditation doesn’t have to be a rigid sit down with eyes closed, hour-long routine. Simple five-minute meditations can have a tremendous effect on mood and stress if done consistently and open-mindedly.
If you find it difficult to sit quietly for five to ten minutes at a time, there are lots of resources (Youtube, meditation websites) offering guided meditations. Meditations can be done at work, before bed or after waking, when you are feeling down, anxious or stressed, or pretty much anytime and all the time.
The most important component of meditation is self-awareness, and breathing, which doesn’t always mean thinking about nothing. Simply be aware of your thoughts and let them go. Incorporating breathing techniques will help keep you centered. See the breathing technique mentioned above.
Journaling isn’t just for 12 years olds. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center9, journaling helps with anxiety management, stress reduction, coping with depression, and mood improvement.
It is beneficial in tracking and recognizing symptoms, thoughts, and behavior. Most of the time, we are not aware of our negative self-talk and tend to ruminate and exaggerate. Journaling helps to identify the source of stress and possibly identify strategies to resolve and reduce the stress experienced.
Yoga benefits depression, anxiety, stress, and a wide spectrum of different health issues by connecting the mind and body. By focusing on breathing while moving through a series of movements and poses, yoga clears the mind, increases oxygen uptake and blood circulation. It not only reduces stress but also enhances resilience during stressful situations.
Going back to our roots has been proven over and over again to be beneficial in reducing stress. In fact, being in nature reduces depression, anxiety, stress, blood pressure and promotes a positive mood, physical well-being, and mental health15. You will experience the positive effects of multiple body systems.
Moderate exercises have been shown to benefit stress and fertility, especially in those who are over- or underweight. For more information, check out our article on exercise and fertility here.
What Can Counselling Do For Me?
Counselling is a great tool for people who are looking for support, feeling lost and helpless. Counselling offers an objective perspective, but the counsellor empathizes with the situation. People who experience infertility often feel alone and isolated, counselling provides a safe haven where professional support, understanding, and advice are available.
According to the British Medical Journal, counselling decreases stress and increases pregnancy rates5. There is a much higher rate of pregnancy in women who received counselling and psycho-emotional support from a professional. Counselling sessions are an important part of fertility treatment and are especially useful for women who are experiencing stress, anxiety, and depression.
Natural Remedies for Stress and Fertility
Adaptogens are herbs that support the adrenal system. Our adrenal system is crucial in all aspects of our health, especially in the regulation of hormones like cortisol.
Adaptogenic herbs beneficial for stress and restoring the adrenal glands include:
- Holy basil
- Astragalus root
- Licorice root
While these herbs can do a lot to improve your stress levels, each herb has different effects and must be selected based on your individual constitution. It’s very important to have an experienced health care practitioner who can assess which adaptogenic herbs are best suited for your specific balance of hormones.
Stress and Fertility: A Final Word
Bringing awareness to the source of your stress and your own reaction to these sources are incredibly important in stress management. Counselling and natural herbal medicine are some important steps that increase pregnancy rates, decrease levels of stress, and promote overall wellness. Stress and fertility go hand in hand, so always remember to take deep breaths, sleep well, spend time in nature, and smile! If you are struggling with infertility, I’m here and happy to help you on your journey.
With love and in health,
Dr. Priya Prakash, ND
- Buck Louis, G., Lum, K., Rajeshwari, R., Chen, Z. and Kim, S. (2011). Stress reduces conception probabilities across the fertile window: evidence in support of relaxation. Fertility and Sterility, 95(7), pp.2184-2189.
- Herrenkohl, L. (1979). Prenatal stress reduces fertility and fecundity in female offspring. Science, 206(4422), pp.1097-1099.
- Clay, R. (2006). Does stress hinder conception?. [online] http://www.apa.org. Available at: http://www.apa.org/monitor/sep06/stress.aspx [Accessed 17 Sep. 2017].
- Prasad, S., Tiwari, M. and Chaube, S. (2016). Impact of stress on oocyte quality and reproductive outcome. Journal of Biomedical Science, 23(36).
- Frederiksen, Y., Farver- Vestergaard, I., Gronhoj Skovgard, N., Ingerslev, H. and Zachariae, R. (2017). Efficacy of psychosocial interventions for psychological and pregnancy outcomes in infertile women and men: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ, 5(1).
- Jerath, R., Edry, J., Barnes, V. and Jerath, V. (2006). Physiology of long pranayamic breathing: Neural respiratory elements may provide a mechanism that explains how slow deep breathing shifts the autonomic nervous system. Medical Hypotheses, 67(3), pp.566-571.
- Pal, G., Velkumary, S. and Madanmohan (2004). Effect of short- term practice of breathing exercises on autonomic functions in normal human volunteers. Indian Journal of Medical Research, 120, pp.115-121.
- Miller, J., Fletcher, K. and Kabat- Zinn, J. (1995). Three-year follow-up and clinical implications of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention in the treatment of anxiety disorders. General Hospital Psychiatry, 17(3), pp.192-200.
- Health Encyclopedia. (2017). Journaling for Mental Health – Health Encyclopedia – University of Rochester Medical Center. [online] Available at: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentID=4552&ContentTypeID=1 [Accessed 17 Sep. 2017].
- Taking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing. (2016). How Does Nature Impact Our Wellbeing? | Taking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing. [online] Available at: https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/enhance-your-wellbeing/environment/nature-and-us/how-does-nature-impact-our-wellbeing [Accessed 17 Sep. 2017].
- Domar, A., Rooney, K., Wiegand, B., Orav, E., Alper, M., Berger, B. and Nikolovski, J. (2011). Impact of a group mind/body intervention on pregnancy rates in IVF patients. Fertility and Sterility, 95(7), pp.2269-2273.
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