Does stress affect my fertility?

Is one of the most common questions we are asked in clinic. The research is mixed and there really is no conclusive evidence either way. What is definitive though, is that going through fertility problems is stressful and is linked to increased rates of anxiety and depression. When you find yourself facing problems with your fertility, whether they be health conditions, going through IVF, miscarriage, unexplained infertility etc, it is impossible to “Just Relax”. Stress is a real and valid response that can’t magically disappear, but there are ways to address it, which can help.

What is stress?

Stress is a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation. It is your fight-or-flight response, and it’s your body’s way of handling challenging situations. When you’re stressed your body goes through:

  • hormonal changes (including increased cortisol)
  • respiratory changes (you might notice irregular breathing patterns)
  • cardiovascular (e.g. a racing heart)
  • nervous system changes (some people report shaking or sweating in moments of stress)

What does the evidence say about stress and fertility?

The evidence isn’t really conclusive. Some studies have shown no link at all. Others have shown that addressing psychological distress increased pregnancy rates. But stress, how this is defined, how it is perceived and how the body copes with it and the knock on affect is all very subjective. We do know that stress can impact on body functions like digestion, hormone balance, microbiomes, inflammation, sleep patterns and libido.  And we know that when we feel stressed we are more likely to make poorer choices; doom scrolling, drinking, smoking, spending,  eating sugar. All of which can, for some people, impact their reproductive health. So addressing stress is an important part of ongoing support  while you’re trying to conceive.

What can you do about stress when you’re trying to conceive?

  • Acknowledge that this is stressful.  Avoiding triggers where possible and having good boundaries to protect yourself is helpful (those people who tell you to relax, go on holiday, baby showers, family gatherings etc etc etc)
  • Know when you’re stressed. Recognising that stress shows up in the body so insomnia, inability to concentrate, digestive problems, feelings of anxiety could all be due to stress and are signs that further support is needed to address it.
  • Actively address stress. Find activities that mitigate the feelings of stress. Yoga, exercise, journalling, acupuncture, reflexology, meditation, time outdoors, hobbies, there is no right or wrong, it’s whatever works for you and feels good.

Where to go for further support:

Acupuncture for stress management

If anyone ever asks me “How does acupuncture work” my go to answer is, “It switches of stress”. I think this is one of the main reasons why acupuncture is used so widely as a support alongside fertility problems. It really does reduce adrenaline and cortisol, it enables the nervous system to move from fight or flight to rest and digest and explains why people leave feeling lighter and always have a good night’s sleep! If you’d like to find out more please do get in touch or listen to our podcast episode all about stress and fertility.

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