Since stress has become such an important figure in today’s modern society, it’s no wonder that an abundance of it can have an impact on your ability to conceive. You may have been told to ‘just relax and let it happen’, assuming stress is the culprit, but that’s easier said than done. Especially when the stresses of life don’t just go away – it’s one thing to try and adapt, but more often than not it takes a rather different approach to what you’re doing to get things working. So here is a little background on what stress is, how it may be affecting your fertility, and what you can possibly do to counteract its effects.
Stress 101: When you’re ‘under stress’, you’re really experiencing the ‘fight or flight’ response, which is a built-in system left over from times when humans had to worry about predators attacking. Back then, this mechanism was very handy, because it causes your body to increase your heart rate and ramp up cortisol levels, which increase blood pressure. All of this, in the short term, is great because it makes you respond more quickly – a necessary advantage when being chased or attacked. But in today’s fast-paced, high-stress world this mechanism can get triggered hourly, and since you’re not built to be ‘attacked’ so frequently, your body suffers. Sure, give it a few thousand years and humanity will learn to adapt, but right now a frequently triggered alarm system causes hormone levels to be out of whack, causing various kinds of illness, including high blood pressure.
So how does stress affect fertility? Scientifically-speaking, when you’re under stress your sex hormone GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone) gets suppressed, thus affecting ovulation, implantation, libido, and sperm count. This makes sense in evolutionary terms, since a stressed-out human would be unlikely to be able to care for a baby. If only your body knew the advances we’ve made! And stress gets even worse when you’ve had trouble conceiving, so of course the added stress makes conceiving even more difficult.
If you are trying to conceive and are having trouble, you should definitely look at ways to reduce the stress in your life, no matter what conventional methods (e.g. IVF) you’re already trying. Here are some ways that you can lower the stress in your life naturally, and thus improve your chances of conception:
1. Quit. That is, consider changing positions within your company, or getting a new job altogether. This may seem drastic, but if you are taking fertility seriously, you have to ask yourself some tough questions. How far are you willing to go? If you’re on the fence about leaving your current job versus having a baby, then also consider your own personal health. Stress has untold effects on other parts of your body besides fertility, so making a career move could very well be adding years to your life in addition to a little bundle of joy.
2. Talk to a psychotherapist. Actually, anyone trained in helping you get your feelings out can help – so consider talking to someone who can help you get to the root of some of your stresses, and possibly also help you find ways to cope with them better.
3. Try some massage therapy, salt baths or anything natural to relax your muscles. Getting your blood flowing and releasing some toxins as a result can have a tremendous effect on your well-being and fertility.
4. Acupuncture. This ancient modality of Traditional Chinese Medicine has been used for thousands of years for fertility, and still with great results. It can be used in conjunction with any drug therapy you might be on, and it may only take a couple of months of acupuncture to get your hormones back on track.
5. Exercise and eat right. You just can’t say it enough: a proper diet with some exercise thrown in will help you manage your hormone levels, lowering your stress and helping increase your chances of conceiving.
There are really many, many ways to learn to relax. Choose what feels right for you – don’t force yourself to do something because everyone else likes it. If making mud pies in the park is your thing, go for it. It’s all for a good cause.
By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner