Is it possible that stress alone can interfere with a woman’s pregnancy? In what way exactly could anxiety, constant stress and infertility be linked? How can we try and alleviate their effect on our minds and bodies?
First of all, is stress to be blamed for infertility?
We all know the commonest conception rule “relax and let it happen” – according to it, stress can be a major obstacle to getting pregnant naturally and easily. And that about covers it: as more scientific research comes out, the correlation between stress, depressive and anxious state of mind on one hand and barrenness on the other stand out more clearly.
To begin with, as your stress increases, you are likely to have less sex – and this is the first harbinger of possible problems in the fertility sphere. In an attempt to cope with stress many people resort to smoking and drinking more than they’re accustomed to; all this is also known to be anti-fertility behaviors.
With a number of women constant stress can interfere with ovulation through tampering with signals sent to the hypothalamus (which is the part of the brain responsible for the hormones providing for the ovaries generating eggs on a regular basis). If the stressful state persists, the ovulation cycle gets irregular, and the process of conception consequently becomes less predictable. Periods of the highest fertility can no longer be calculated with exactitude. With a number of men (according to some studies) stress brings down testosterone and sperm generation levels.
Apart from proper ovulation, stress is suspected to interfere with other fertility issues – implantation of the uterus and fertilization are also susceptible to the workings of stress. There is a study from Californian scientists showing that when women who lived under chronic stress were having IVF their chances of success were deteriorated at every stage with fewer eggs participating in the process, while it was not the case with women who did not feel uptight. Israeli scientists tried to bring down stress in women undergoing IVF and see how it would affect the result; it emerged that those who watched a clown perform after having been treated had more chances to conceive compared to those who had no reason to laugh their stress away.
What if infertility gives rise to stress?
Work and family commitments are not the only source of stress. As a woman tries to get pregnant and fails, it can build up a lot of anxiety and stress. Japanese scientists state that almost half of women complaining of fertility issues turned out to be in a state of clinical depression before they applied for infertility treatment.
Mostly there is a sound physical reason for pregnancy difficulties. Yet the ensuing stress, persisting week after week, grows into depression and adds to the problem. So, while the physical basis of infertility can succumb to medical treatment (for instance, endometriosis has been operated on), the state of depression remains to impact pregnancy success.
What if the woman has a job that keeps putting stress on her? Does it mean she will have fertility problems?
As scientists usually deal with women who are already struggling with getting pregnant (and often restoring to IVF treatment) and don’t get busy on practically every woman there is, this is a question that’s very difficult to answer.
Going through the motions of life, we find that some kind of stress is unavoidable, and if now and then we are subjected to an exceptionally strenuous office day, it is hardly likely to immediately affect our pregnancy period adversely. If you get home and find that the day’s stress is getting dissipated and in the evening you are no longer worried with what harried you in the afternoon, it doesn’t interfere with your appetite, your sleep or your regular occupations – than your psyche has coped with the situation and you have nothing to worry about. You are supposed to take small everyday stresses in your stride. Yet sometimes when you experience sudden powerful stresses (death of a relative, relocating to another state, losing your job), you may find your menstrual cycle has responded to the pressure.
What can women do to cope with stress that could affect their fertility?
Actually, whatever you do to shake off weariness and anxiety will certainly help. Go shopping, read up celeb news on the Internet, ring your best friends and arrange a meeting. Of course, there are other beneficial things you can do to increase your conception chances, and here are some of them.
- Get physically active. While meditation works just fine with a certain type of women, for others yoga asanas may provide better answers. As you concentrate on the right breathing and striking tricky poses, your stress subsides, so your fertility will appreciate your taking yoga classes or following the instructions of online training courses.
- Get quality sleep. 80+% of woman are known to ovulate within the period between midnight and about 8 in the morning; therefore, if you don’t get enough sleep to the extent that it causes hormonal disturbance, it can be bad for conception. Sleep with its regenerative ability is a great chance for the body and mind to slip from under the strain of the day and get energized for the next one. Sleep needs are very different from person to person, so check your body signals. If you don’t feel refreshed by your sleep or start feeling drained as the day goes by, it looks as if you run low on sleep.
- Don’t think of conceiving when you have sex. Fertility-affecting stress may be growing on both you and your spouse/partner; then it will make you feel like you ought to be trying hard and be very scientific about your sex. Forget about the strain and obligation, do it when you feel like fun and games and enjoy your intimate moments.
- Make use of anti-stress exercises. There are things like progressive muscle relaxation exercises which are designed for your learning to relax better by means of first tightening, then relaxing every muscle in your body beginning from the face. First raise your eyebrows to furrow the forehead for a few seconds, then let it relax. Move on to your nose, relaxing it after a while, to the jaw and so on until you have strained all your muscles. This way you learn to sense how your body feels when it is tense and relaxed, so you can achieve better relaxation.
- Write up your worries. Find out what writing can do to your stress and anxiety. As you write down all your problems on paper you may be sharpening your perspective view of the current situation and feel that you gained some more control over your issues. Keeping a regular journal of stressful events can help you follow the development of the problems that are nagging you and getting deeper into their nature. It usually goes to diminish anxiety.
- Consult a professional. If you feel that you can’t get the better of your stressed-out condition, it’s difficult for you to get out from under the bouts of hopelessness and despondency, why deny yourself the benefit of a professional consultation? Pick a psychologist who had an experience of handling infertility cases, go check out asrm.org. Your health and your family deserve every attention you can muster.