Infertility and Stress

High levels of stress is known to impact fertility. While researchers do not fully understand how stress affects a woman’s chances of conceiving, they do know that reducing stress offers an improved quality of life. Stress is defined as an event that someone perceives as threatening. To protect against stress, the body responds using the fight-or-flight mechanism.

 

How Stress Impacts Fertility

Couples who suffer with infertility respond to the stress of not being able to conceive by aggressively pursuing procedures that offer treatment. Some clients withdraw and isolate themselves from friends, community, and family. Neither of these extremes is best for people who seek to treat infertility and build a family.

Recent research shows that stress boosts levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, adrenaline, and catecholamines. These substances inhibit the release of gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH), which is necessary for the release of sex hormones. This cycle of hormone imbalance reduces a man’s sperm count and suppresses libido in both men and women.

GnRH is manufactured by the hypothalamus (in the brain), and it is responsible for signaling the release of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) from the pituitary gland. These hormones stimulate the gonads (testes and ovaries) to release estrogens and androgens (the sex hormones). This delicate process is a negative feedback loop that when disrupted, will cause the target organs to atrophy and no longer function appropriately.

Chronic stress causes a lack of libido and decreased general fertility. This common issue is called stress-induced reproductive dysfunction. For this reason, couples trying to become pregnant should undergo stress relief as part of the conception plan. Carrying a pregnancy to term can be stressful. People with high stress levels are usually tired and irritable, which contributes to poor lifestyle and dietary habits.

 

Stress Hormones

Stress hormones affect fertility in the following ways:

  • Reduces the secretion of estrogen from the follicle, which reduces the endometrial lining thickness.
  • Reduces the secretion of progesterone from the corpus luteum during the luteal phase, which affects implantation of the fertilized egg.
  • Alters the surge of LH from the pituitary gland, which stimulates ovulation.
  • Increases prolactin secretion from the pituitary gland, which affects ovarian function.
  • Affects the portion of the immune system that is responsible for preventing miscarriage early in pregnancy.
  • Impacts other health concerns which then impairs fertility, such as autoimmune conditions, thyroid health, allergic conditions, PCOS, and endometriosis.

 

Ways to Reduce Stress

Less stress in your life while undergoing fertility treatment will improve pregnancy outcome. To manage stress related to a diagnosis of infertility means the couple should develop better coping strategies. This helps the clients feel more in control of the situation, and it also improves overall well-being. Stress interferes with decision-making abilities and allows clients to explore and consider the various options. By reducing stress, the couple can consider the pros and cons of each treatment course.

When challenged with a stressful situation, the only thing you have control over is how you react to it. Excessive worry does nothing to help anyone, so getting control on your feelings helps. While this takes time, attention, and practice, you can get control of your life if you try. Some popular stress reduction techniques are:

  • Guided imagery
  • Acupuncture
  • Journaling
  • Aerobic exercise
  • Listening to music
  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Self-help books
  • Visualization
  • Support and educational groups
  • Psychotherapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy