Fertility and stress
6th August 2019
There are many theories regarding the link between fertility and stress. At Adia, we believe that physical and mental health are intrinsically linked. Even if stress isn’t the central cause of your fertility struggles, it’s helpful to learn how to look after your mental well being. Self care and mental health are always important – especially when you are trying for a baby.
How does stress affect fertility?
It’s hard for doctors to know exactly how much impact stress has on fertility. However, the one thing we do know is that extreme stress can have an effect on our female hormones. Spikes of the stress hormone, cortisol, can really mess with your body’s status quo.
This means that in a time of high stress, your cycle could be thrown out the window. For some women, they may miss a period altogether, or find their period is delayed. This reaction is your body trying to delay ovulation. Whilst this may be frustrating if you’re trying to conceive, your body is trying to do you a favour. It thinks that if you’re stressed you’re in danger – and therefore it’s not a safe space for a baby.
However, if stress is impacting your menstrual cycle, this doesn’t mean you are infertile – it can just make it slightly harder to pinpoint ovulation. Some women worry that anxiety can stop you getting pregnant. The body’s reaction to anxiety is similar to stress, so the impact on your cycle could be similar – but it shouldn’t stop you from getting pregnant. It’s also worth noting that there is no proven link between stress and miscarriage.
Stress and Lifestyle
Stress can also lead to a lifestyle that doesn’t support conception. Increased stress can lead to a lack of sleep and in some cases insomnia. Not getting your recommended 7-8 hours a night can lead to physiological issues that may affect your cycle.
Diet is another factor that can be impacted by stress. When we’re going through a stressful time, we tend to let healthy eating habits slide. For some, this can mean eating less and losing weight, and for others, they may find comfort in food – known as emotional eating – which can lead to weight gain. Being underweight or overweight has been proven to affect fertility, so maintaining a healthy BMI is key to natural conception.
Can stress cause permanent infertility?
There is limited evidence that stress can cause infertility – and any issues triggered by stress should be rectifiable. As previously mentioned, if you have gone through a stage of extreme stress, this could play havoc with your cycle. However, that is just one cycle. If your irregularities are purely down to stress, this won’t be permanent. Once you are feeling calmer, your body and cycle should return to normal. Don’t assume that irregular cycles or infertile signs are down to stress. If you’re concerned you should always speak to your doctor.
Does stress affect male fertility?
There is some evidence that stress can be a cause of male infertility – at least in the short term. Much like women, a man’s reproductive system is intrinsically linked to their nervous system – and everything starts in the brain. The ‘fight or flight’ part of the brain is responsible for producing testosterone – but it’s also greatly affected by stress. The cortisol that is released by the adrenal gland during times of stress can play havoc with testosterone production. This can impact sexual arousal, libido and in some cases cause erectile dysfunction.
Ways of coping with infertility
Trying to navigate a fertility journey is stressful – and it can be unhelpful when experts tell you to ‘relax and it will happen’. However, learning how to emotionally cope with infertility is important, if only for your own well being and your relationship.
Firstly, it’s really important to be kind to yourself. It’s easy to fall into the trap of blaming yourself for your fertility struggles – but it is never your fault. A fertility journey can take its toll on your self esteem, so you must actively try to limit negative self talk. It can be hard to remain optimistic, but trying to keep some positivity and perspective can be helpful.
Opening up to your partner is also crucial. You will both be going through a whole cocktail of emotions that only the two of you will truly understand. It’s common for us to retreat into ourselves during times of stress. However, keeping the lines of communication open in your relationship will help you deal with the situation. It’s also hard to be physically intimate when we are feeling emotionally distant. Both are equally as important when you are trying to conceive, especially if you are experiencing struggles. Try to talk through your feelings with your partner – and be sure to ask about theirs.
Talking to other people can also be incredibly healing. Infertility is more common than we realise, but the stigma around it sometimes stops people opening up to each other. Speaking to friends who have experienced the same thing will make you feel less isolated.They will also be able to empathise with your struggle and give advice on how they dealt with it.
There are also lots of great infertility support groups online that you can access wherever you are in the world. The TTC (trying to conceive) community is an incredibly active and supportive group, who are always there to listen. The Adia platform also offers support for those experiencing fertility struggles and you can access advice from experts directly from the comfort of your own home.
Books for those coping with infertility
As more women open up about their fertility struggles, more books are being released that discuss infertility. These can offer advice, support and insights, making you feel less alone and more informed. Reading is also a great way to take an hour or so away from your phone screen, especially before bed – so is a stress reliever in itself! Some books our community have found helpful are ‘Not Pregnant A Companion for the Emotional Journey of Infertility and Unsung Lullabies.
How to reduce stress when trying to conceive?
For couples that are having trouble trying to conceive, it can be an extremely stressful time and can impact our mental health. There are lots of natural ways that you can help reduce stress. Having a solid self care routine and making healthy lifestyle choices are a great place to start. This will include taking the time to look after your diet. A regular exercise routine can also help reduce feelings of stress by releasing endorphins (cortisols biggest killer!)
Yoga is a great form of exercise to help improve our mental health. It helps reconnect our body and mind, as well as keeping us fit. There are even some yoga poses that can help improve fertility that you could try if you are struggling to conceive. Meditation is also a good way to reduce stress. It encourages you to take time out of your busy day to focus on yourself, clear your mind and slow your breathing. The Adia platform offers some free guided practices that are specifically developed for those trying to conceive.
So in conclusion…
Overall, stress alone should not be causing long term fertility issues. We need to remember that women get pregnant in extremely stressful situations – war, famine, abusive relationships – so it is possible. If you have been trying to conceive naturally for 12 months and are yet to get pregnant, you should go and speak your GP – potentially sooner if you are over 35.
But whilst stress may not be the root of your fertility issues, looking after your mental health isn’t going to harm your chances of conception – and will help you feel better too. Trying for a child can be a tough and emotionally draining process, so you will need resilience and a full tank of positivity and energy. Taking time out for self care and other stress relieving activities will help you feel better emotionally – and this will help you and your body prepare healthily for parenthood.
The Adia platform features lots of advice and information to help support you on your fertility journey. Sign up for free today to access fertility experts, diet advice, meditation podcasts and a supportive community of other people trying to conceive.