Stress and Fertility

Stress and fertility at a glance

  • Stress, defined as any type of change that causes physical, emotional or psychological strain, is the body’s response to protecting itself from anything that requires attention or action.
  • While there is no proven research that stress causes infertility or that explains how exactly stress affects fertility, dealing with infertility can cause stress.
  • Developing ways to manage stress related to an infertility diagnosis and treatment can help improve one’s overall well-being.
  • The right stress reduction tools can vary for each patient, and some people should try more than one technique to determine which one works best.
  • In addition to the guidance on managing stress by our doctors and staff, family and friends of fertility patients can be helpful resources by being supportive.

 

What is stress and how does it affect fertility?

Stress is how the brain and body react to any demand that feels threatening, causing the body to react with a “fight or flight” response. Everyone experiences stress to some extent. Establishing an understanding of how stress impacts a person’s physical and mental health and recognizing how they affect stress levels is essential when responding to the situation.

According to the American Psychological Association, more than three-quarters of adults report physical or emotional symptoms of stress, such as headache, feeling tired or changes in sleeping habits. Reducing stress does contribute to a better quality of life during times of adversity.

The body’s response to stress includes a surge of hormones that raises the heart rate, elevates blood pressure and boosts energy in order to equip the body to deal with the stressor. If this turns into chronic stress, it can have an impact on health including fatigue, irritability and difficulty concentrating.

Can stress cause infertility?

When it comes to infertility in relation to stress, The American Society for Reproductive Medicine says it is unknown how stress impacts fertility and whether stress can inhibit pregnancy or affect a woman’s chance of getting pregnant. However, patients often think stress can cause infertility.

That is not medically accurate. But it is known that stress can make conception more problematic for men and women. While the components of how this works are not totally understood, it is clear that there is a relationship between them. There is also a link between stress reduction methods when utilized on a regular basis and improved pregnancy rates.

Women undergoing fertility treatment have the same, or even higher, stress than those facing a life-threatening illness like cancer or heart disease. Each month, infertile couples are stressed by hoping to conceive then being distraught when they don’t, which can be a form of chronic stress.

Related reading: Couples Counseling When Fertility Dashes Their Dream

 

Research has shown that infertility can cause stress that leads to anxiety and depression. Stress and depression are related to reduced testosterone in men. Some studies suggest high stress can reduce sperm production. Stress in a man, woman or both can affect chances of pregnancy because it inhibits the desire to have sex as frequently as necessary for conception.

Trying to conceive under the best circumstances is dependent on a particular blend of female hormonal components, and stress can disrupt the fundamental balance. Though rare, high levels of stress can change hormone levels in women, causing irregular ovulation. Physical stress in women, such as working long hours or at a stressful job, can influence fertility, as these women can have lower rates of fertility.

Would you like more information about stress and infertility?

Contact us today or schedule an appointment online.

Managing stress when dealing with infertility

Each patient, male or female, responds to an infertility diagnosis differently. Aggressively pursuing treatment or procedures is not uncommon for fertility patients. On the other hand, the stress of infertility can cause some patients to withdraw from friends or family and other sources of support. Infertility impacts many areas of life including relationships, finances, health and work. So, it’s important to take a proactive approach to fertility treatment, and in the meantime proceed with measures to manage stress.

Related reading: Addressing the self-blame and shame of infertility by opening up

Stress reduction may improve chances of conception. Lowering stress levels allows patients to put more thought into research to better examine the options available to them. Decreasing stress can also enable patients to assess the pros and cons of a particular course of infertility treatment and make decisions that are in their best interest.

Stress reduction techniques for infertility patients

Let’s start with what doesn’t work yet is popular advice people give to those having a hard time conceiving: “Just stop stressing out and you’ll get pregnant.” This is actually bad advice, however well-meaning.

Some simple things can have an effect on reducing stress, like laughing. Watching funny TV shows or movies, or spending time with friends who make you laugh can reduce stress. Hugging, touching and kissing can relieve stress, so cuddle up with your partner. Ironically, perhaps, having sex (without fretting about it resulting in pregnancy) can also reduce stress.

Listening to music that soothes or energizes can help. Aromas can also help calm people, some find that scented candles or essential oils lower feelings of stress. Knowing when to say no to additional work or activities that add stress can help.

These and other simple things can all reduce stress. Each person has activities, sights and sounds that help them relax, which helps reduce stress. If that’s watching a funny video or dancing in the kitchen, do it. Here are other common stress reduction techniques:

  • Acupuncture.
  • Exercise.
  • Journaling.
  • Massage therapy.
  • Meditation.
  • Mindfulness.
  • Self-help books.
  • Support groups.*
  • Yoga.

*Resolve, The National Infertility Association has several resources on finding support and support groups that can help in dealing with stress from infertility.

How can friends or family members support someone with infertility?

Friends and loved ones can help sustain fertility patients when going through challenging times. Rather than offering advice or telling someone to relax, it’s more helpful for them to ask how the couple or friends with infertility are doing. Proposing ways to help them minimize stress will improve their well-being. But often the person with infertility may need to let others know how best to support them (and how not to).

Oftentimes, just having friends/loved ones available to listen can be the most beneficial for fertility patients.

Most people have a network of friends and family members they derive a sense of belonging and self-worth from. For someone with infertility, relying more on this network can be a boon in reducing stress. Spending time with friends, particularly for women, has been found to reduce stress. On the other hand, men and women with few social connections are more likely to suffer anxiety.

One of the best sources of support during the stress of infertility is one’s partner. It’s not easy sometimes, but working to keep that line of communication open and active can be a great stress reducer. Treat each other with kindness, compassion and respect. Being there for each other can help a lot in getting stress under control.