It is not easy to pinpoint the exact reason why some couples can’t seem to conceive. From physical and medical reasons to psychological ones, anything could be hindering the conception of a baby. However, several studies have shown that we are undermining the role that stress plays in infertility. Research shows that women who have high stress levels for stress take almost 29 percent longer to get pregnant.
According to infertility researcher, Domar, who is also the director of body/mind services at Boston IVF, our bodies have the inherent knowledge that periods of stress are not a good time to have a baby. Moreover, stressed people often have daily habits that are not conducive to conception, such as, smoking, drinking too much coffee, having intercourse less often etc.
The reason why stress could play such an important role in infertility could be due to the secretion of cortisol and the way it disrupts the signaling between the brain and the ovaries. The latter can interfere with the process of ovulation and thus cause infertility. As the months go by without conception, further stress kicks in. Hence, a vicious cycle starts.
What does stress do?
Chronic stress can take a major toll on the ovulatory cycle. According to Sarah Berga, MD, an infertility specialist gynecologist in the department of Gynecology and Obstetrics at Emory University School of Medicine, major upheavals like death in family, or unemployment can cause the ovulatory cycle to be majorly disruptive. Just like adrenaline, cortisol pushes the metabolism into gear, and causes high blood pressure, weight gain and other health problems.
People suffering from infertility often find themselves to be struggling alone and in silence. The stress of the inability to conceive turns into depression, anxiety, and social isolation. In fact, some women struggling with infertility have the same levels of anxiety and depression as those diagnosed with cancer or HIV.
Despite the high prevalence of infertility (about 1 in 8 couples), the majority of couples do not share their struggle with their family and friends, and thus increase their psychological stress. The feelings of shame, low self-esteem, and guilt all crop up. All these negative feelings further decrease the quality of life and cause great turmoil.
Special attention should be paid to couples who undergo Assisted Reproductive Treatment (ART). Such patients can experience varied psychiatric disorders, and their physicians and medical practitioners should play special focus on their mental health.
If stress has such a major role to play in hampering fertility, it would seem a logical conclusion that managing it would be helpful in conception. In her study, Dr. Berga found that managing chronic stress and stress management therapy helped seven out of eight women begin ovulation again.
How to Combat Stress?
Here are some practical ways that can help you manage stress:
- Enlist the help of your partner
Both men and women have different ways of combating stress. While women seek social support, men lean towards problem-solving. This disparity between perspectives can cause a strain in relationships. It is, therefore, important that you and your spouse are on the same page, and deal with stress as a team.
According to psychologists, Julia Woodward of Duke Fertility Center, constant focus on infertility and procreation can cause a rift between husband and wife. Moreover, it siphons off the joy and fun from sex. She advises couples to limit their talk on pregnancy and infertility, and start spending time on team activities like playing a game or watching a movie together.
- Work on relaxation
Relaxation techniques can go a long way in helping combat infertility stress. You can seek professional help in devising ways to help manage stress—like talking to a therapist or psychiatrist. You can also take up activities like yoga and meditation to deal with the situation. Once or twice a day, doing deep breathing exercises and deep relaxation techniques can help elicit a relaxation response, like slower heart rate, and lowered blood pressure.
Another great way to manage stress is to take up exercise. Not only would it keep you healthy, but it would also mitigate stress. Higher energy workouts release feel good hormones known as endorphins, which can help one relax and decrease stress. However, be sure to exercise in moderation, as too much exercise can also interrupt the process of ovulation.
- Rethink your attitude
The thinking that you are the only one having trouble getting pregnant, while everyone else can easily be pregnant can cause distress in the body. This type of negativity should be re-routed towards positive thinking, and positive coping statements should be the mantra. Pessimistic thinking and attitude are not rewarding, and the earlier you change your thinking, the better it is for you.
Stress and infertility both go hand in hand. As concluded from recent research, stress management can help infertility. If you are also dealing with this issue, you should seek professional help to deal with this condition.
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Tahir Akbar is Head of Digital Marketing at oladoc, a digital health company. As a Certified Digital Marketing Professional, Tahir helps businesses achieve their marketing goals.