Trying to Conceive? Unravel the Impact of Stress.
First of all, let me congratulate you on embarking on this incredible adventure! It’s an exciting time filled with hope, dreams, and anticipation.
However, if you’ve found your way to this blog then its likely the adventure so far has been a roller coaster for you and not in a good way. Maybe its been filled with stress, anxiety, disappointment and grief. Does it feel like the more you’re trying to conceive, the more elusive it seems?
Stress and fertility
Stress is a word we’re all familiar with and don’t take too seriously, yet its effects on our bodies and minds can be truly profound. When it comes to the delicate journey of trying to conceive, stress and anxiety can play a significant role, often unnoticed and underestimated.
It’s a vicious cycle: the stress of trying to conceive can affect emotional well-being, and emotional distress can amplify stress levels.
Research has shown that chronic stress and anxiety interfere with and delay our ability to achieve pregnancy and women with a history of depression were shown as twice as likely to experience infertility.
This isn’t something to bury your head in the sand about. Especially since there is so much you can do to help yourself once you begin to take stress seriously.
Not only will you be able to negate the impact on your fertility but the effects will positively impact the rest of your life and relationships too. There is a lot to be hopeful about!
My aim is to unravel and shed light on the impact of stress not to overwhelm you with worry, but to offer reassurance and support.
You will be empowered with practical strategies, tips and tools to help you to reduce stress and cultivate an ongoing calmer, more fertile state of being. A harmonious environment for conception in other words.
Human beings are magical powerful machines with multiple interdependent systems that function at their best when they are in balance, (a state called homeostasis that you might remember from science lessons at school).
A stressor is something that throws this balance off. That’s a normal thing to happen and how our body is designed. It’s always adapting and adjusting to regain homeostasis. It only becomes a problem when the stress is chronic and the body stays out of balance.
Understanding the Stress Response
To comprehend how stress affects our fertility, it’s essential to grasp the stress response itself. When we experience danger or stress our sympathetic nervous system takes over and our bodies release a cascade of hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, preparing us for the “fight or flight” response.
While this response is vital for our survival in acute situations, prolonged or chronic stress or anxiety can disrupt our delicate hormonal balance, potentially impacting our reproductive system.
Organs and systems like our eyes, circulatory system, heart, lungs and liver are prioritised as they can be crucial in our ability to respond to threat. Systems like digestion and reproduction take a back seat as they’re not helpful in these situations.
Some Impacts of stress on fertility
Impaired Sexual Function:
Stress can adversely affect sexual desire, arousal, and satisfaction, potentially impacting the frequency and enjoyment of intercourse. Intimacy is an integral part of the conception process, and stress-related sexual difficulties can hinder conception efforts.
Delayed Time to Pregnancy:
Studies have shown that higher stress levels can prolong the time it takes to conceive.
Disrupted Hormonal Feedback Loop:
Stress can disrupt the intricate feedback loop between the brain, pituitary gland, and ovaries, known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian (HPO) axis. This disruption can lead to irregularities in the release of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), crucial for follicle development, ovulation, and hormonal balance.
Stress has a remarkable ability to influence the delicate interplay of hormones responsible for regulating our menstrual cycles and ovulation. Elevated levels of stress hormones can disrupt the production of reproductive hormones such as oestrogen, progesterone, and luteinizing hormone (LH). leading to irregular periods or even missed periods. This can make it more difficult to predict ovulation and time intercourse effectively.
Altered Cervical Mucus:
Stress can affect the consistency and quantity of cervical mucus, which plays a vital role in facilitating sperm transport and survival. Changes in cervical mucus can make it more difficult for sperm to reach the fallopian tubes and fertilize an egg.
Reduced Egg Quality:
Chronic stress may have an impact on the quality of eggs produced. High levels of stress hormones can affect the maturation process of eggs, potentially leading to decreased egg quality and reduced chances of successful fertilization.
Interference with Implantation:
Stress can affect the implantation process of a fertilized egg in the uterus. The uterus is a complex environment, and stress-induced changes can impact the receptivity of the uterine lining, making it less conducive to successful implantation.
Increased Risk of Reproductive Disorders:
Chronic stress has been associated with an increased risk of certain reproductive disorders, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis. These conditions can contribute to fertility challenges and may require additional medical intervention to conceive.
Impact on Sperm Health
It’s not just women who are affected by stress when trying to conceive. Men, too, can experience a decline in sperm health due to stress.
High levels of stress hormones can lead to decreased sperm count, reduced sperm motility (movement), and even structural abnormalities/higher rates of DNA damage in sperm, all of which can impact fertility and the chances of successful fertilization.
Stress can also affect sexual function and libido, adding an additional layer of complexity to the journey.
Listen to your body
It’s important to note that while stress can have these effects, every person’s experience is unique. Some women may be more resilient to stress, while others may be more susceptible to its impact on fertility.
It’s essential to listen to your body and be aware of your stress levels so that you can take simple steps to reduce it and/or reach out for help from friends, family or professionals like me.
The reality is that life can be stressful and trying to conceive can be stressful. That isn’t the problem. Stress in itself is not intrinsically bad because there is positive stress as well as negative. The important thing to remember is stress recovery.
The problem is that we are not placing any importance on day to day stress recovery. That means our bodies are often receiving long term, low level stress signals and stress hormones and holding onto physical tension.
Tension affects all the systems of our body and is also stored in our muscles and fascia (fascia is a thin casing of connective tissue that surrounds and holds every organ, blood vessel, bone, nerve fibre and muscle in place).
Make stress recovery and tension release a priority every day.
An important caveat here is to also remember to let yourself off the hook. Don’t try to be perfect. Do your best most of the time and that is good enough. Accept that there may well be times when you fall into a stress pit or worry wormhole or get dragged into reactivity by something happening to you or around you. That is being human and it is what it is.
The important thing is to be kind and forgiving to yourself and prioritise recovery from that stress and anxiety (mop up your stress mess).
You need to let your brain and body know that the stress is over so that your brain can let the stress hormones subside (adrenaline and cortisol) and your body can switch from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system.
This lets your brain and body regain their sense of safety so that they can return to a state of homeostasis (balance).
Easy stress recovery methods to deploy at home.
Work your way down the list below in a quest to find out what works best for you.They are all proven methods and you might be surprised by what you enjoy. Obviously add in anything else that you already find beneficial.
✨ Listening to a guided hypnosis or meditation audio
✨ Going for a walk in nature
✨ Exercise you enjoy (avoiding excessive exercise though)
✨ Laughter (watch some comedy)
✨ Expressing your worries to trusted friends or family
✨ Breathwork (there are lots of methods, I like the 7-11 technique)
✨ Mindful activity (knitting, crafting, colouring for example)
✨ Meditation (there are lots of different methods to try)
The whole point of the recovery method you choose
Remember the point of the recovery method you choose is to send a strong and clear signal to your brain that the stress is over and all is well. Experiment to see what works best for you.
Tip – you actually have to do these things not just think about them or plan to do them! Every day and the sooner after stress the better.
What would be amazing to promote an ongoing release of tension and for your mental fitness and sense of safety and well-being, would be to use these activities regularly as a preventative measure to ease anxiety as well.
This is because they will help you to maintain a sense of calm and build your resilience and coping skills.
Prioritise your sense of mental and physical wellbeing
Start every day with activities like those in the list above and you are setting yourself up to be more resilient, calm and positive in your responses throughout the day.
Stress and anxiety is inevitable and nothing to be afraid of once you are aware of, and have and use the skills to allow yourself to recover from it.
These days the main stressors that threaten homeostasis are feelings of lack of control, uncertainty and lack of information
This is valuable information. Think about how you can address and counter these while you are trying to conceive and in your life in general.
Focus comes in here. Focus on the things you can control, gather information, ask the questions (even if you feel embarrassed or silly) focus on what you can be certain of and work on coming to terms with the fact that mother nature always has the final say.
This isn’t about never being stressed or anxious. That’s unrealistic and ironically trying to achieve that would be very stressful!
This is about becoming more aware of how you are feeling physically and mentally, and being kind and compassionate with yourself so that you can consciously choose to factor in stress recovery time and techniques.
This sends clear messaging to your brain that any perceived danger is over so that it comes out of the sympathetic system (aka fight and flight) and back into the parasympathetic system (aka rest and digest/feed and breed) so that homeostasis can be achieved.
It’s in this state that all of your bodily systems including your reproductive system can work optimally.
There really is so much you can do to reset your fertility journey and I hope that’s what you have taken from this post.
I hope you are feeling empowered and encouraged because that’s what I want for you!
Ask for help!
In addition to the steps you can take yourself to reduce stress it can sometimes be a good idea to ask for help. Just knowing you are not on your own, but have someone outside of your circle to confide in, someone in your corner who knows what they are doing, in itself can feel like a weight has been lifted.
If you have experienced trauma, had some difficult times or struggle with anxiety, then I believe you would definitely benefit from professional help.
Why struggle on alone when help is available? It can have such a positive impact on your life in general, your fertility journey and your relationships.
Take a look at my Work With Me page to see the different ways you can get help from me.