Does Stress Affect Fertility?

Does Stress Affect Fertility?

It’s generally accepted by the medical community that chronic stress can lead to wide-ranging physical and behavioral health issues. When we experience any kind of upset, our nervous systems trigger the “fight-flight-freeze” response. That’s a protective function. But when it happens too frequently, and if we aren’t able to manage symptoms, we’re at increased risk of conditions such as anxiety, depression, heart disease and high blood pressure.

But does stress impact fertility? Thanks to a dearth of studies focused on women’s health and despite our advances in medicine, it’s a challenging question to answer. The research that’s been conducted either lacks adequate sample sizes, or the variables are too unstable to measure (such as varying tolerance levels and stimuli that subjects consider stressful, etc).  

However, based upon some reliable literature, we can infer there may be a correlation between stress and infertility but not in the way you might think. According to Bruce McEwen, Ph.D, professor and director of the neuroendocrine laboratory at Rockefeller University in New York City, “chronic stress may dampen fertility indirectly. Stress, for instance, can disrupt sleep, which in turn can throw the circadian rhythm out of whack and upset the normal ebb and flow of hormones. Stress may also create or exacerbate disordered eating — which can lead to irregular or absent periods” (NYT, 2019)

So, what are women to do? Work demands, 24-hour news cycle, caring for family members –those are just a few external stressors (and most of us have a lot more going on!). Add the emotional struggle, expense, and experience of fertility treatments – it doesn’t get much more stressful than that. Then, there’s the burden of responsibility women feel, the self-blame that can surface in so many even when there is no blame to place.

As a reproductive therapist who has worked with countless women trying to grow their families, here are my top 3 recommendations:

  1. Seek support. Whether it’s a group, a therapist with specialized training in fertility issues or a friend who’s been through it – your feelings are valid and hearing others legitimize them can be grounding.
  2. Acknowledge that life is stressful – you are not to blame for that! And let’s face it, the more we tell ourselves not to feel what we’re feeling, the more we’re going to feel it. Has anyone in the history of people just relaxed when someone told them to “just relax”?
  3. Don’t try and erase stress from your life because it’s literally impossible. Stress is part of the human experience. The goal instead is to strategize around managing it. What that looks like for each and every individual is different, so consider what will be most impactful for you.

While no one can guarantee that lowering stress will lead to conception, we do know that it can help you improve your ability to cope with life’s challenges.

Contact us to schedule a free phone consultation. We’re here to help you.

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