Stress and fertility are strongly interconnected. If you are about to start IVF you may fluctuate between excitement, optimism and anxiety about the outcome of treatment. In the end your question remains, “Will it work? Will I become pregnant?” It’s so easy to let blood tests, numerous ultrasounds and the egg retrieval process dictate your stress level.
What is the connection between stress and fertility? Can being stressed actually harm your chances of conception? Integrative therapies such as acupuncture, yoga, nutrition and psychotherapy can help to lower your stress response.
Stress, reproductive hormones and your fertility
Stress causes a disruption in your body’s normal release of reproductive hormones. You’ve probably noticed that your period comes later during times of acute stress. Lengthy experience of stress may lead to irregular ovulation and, consequently, a decrease in your chances to become pregnant. In men stress can lead to lower sperm count, impaired motility or even impotence.
Your hypothalamus controls the physiological connection between stress and fertility. This part of your brain is responsible for the relationship between your nervous system and your endocrine system (hormone production and release). One of it’s jobs, among many, is to send out signals to the pituitary gland to release follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone, which control your menstrual cycle. During times of stress your hypothalamus tells the pituitary to signal the release of cortisol (stress hormone) from the adrenal glands. Consequently, prolonged stress and high cortisol levels may change the balance of your reproductive hormones. Your body’s protective mechanism is to stop or slow down all non-essential functions (i.e. reproduction) in times of stress.
Decreasing your stress during fertility treatments
Every woman who comes to our office for fertility care is dealing with some amount of distress from infertility. Financial concerns, strained relationships, anxiety about starting IVF, or grieving a miscarriage may all be contributing factors.
Studies show that if you are undergoing fertility treatments you are at risk of developing anxiety and depression, especially if treatments span months or years.
Psychological counseling to reduce stress can improve fertility. Learning coping skills and enhancing self-nurturance goes a long way to improving your chances for conception. When you feel emotionally supported and practice stress relieving techniques there is a significant improvement in your quality of life and, consequently, pregnancy outcome. Remember, the same part of your brain that regulates your stress response also controls hormone function. You will feel empowered, regain a sense of control in your life, and have fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression when you learn coping mechanisms to calm your response to stress.
Integrative therapies to reduce stress during fertility treatments
At Integrity Women’s Health, our Mindful Fertility Program combines integrative therapies to reduce stress, improve self-care and boost your chances for conception. Our treatments are rooted in scientific evidence and well-established treatment protocols that are followed by renowned clinics such as Pulling Down the Moon, the Domar Center and the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine.
Acupuncture is the most recognized type of complementary medicine for its ability to treat chronic pain and fertility issues. Research shows that acupuncture improves fertility outcomes and supports conventional fertility treatments by:
- increasing your blood supply to the uterus
- helping to thicken your endometrial lining
- calming your nervous system
- regulating your hormone function through the hypothalamus-pituitary-axis (HPA)
Yoga is rooted in the philosophy of harmonizing mind, body and spirit. When undergoing fertility treatments you may feel disconnected from yourself. Hormone medications and the stress of treatments can cause physical discomfort and uncontrollable mood swings.
Movement, breathing and mindfulness exercises can:
- improve your blood and oxygen circulation
- significantly reduce your anxiety and depression
- increase your flexibility and muscle tone
- improve your hormone function
It can be stressful to determine good dietary changes to improve your fertility and overall health—there are so many fad diets out there! Maintaining a healthy weight, stabilizing your blood sugar levels and eliminating problem causing foods can all enhance fertility. Working with a nutritionist will give you the confidence to make appropriate and sustainable changes to your diet.
Research shows that undergoing fertility treatment could create the same level of distress for you as suffering a life-threatening illness. You will feel more capable of dealing with stress and fertility issues if you establish a relationship with a psychologist who can teach you coping skills like guided meditations, breathing exercises and positive thinking skills.
If you would like more information about our Mindful Fertility Program please feel free to contact us to schedule a free consultation. We are passionate about helping you on your journey to motherhood and we welcome your questions.