Please don’t tell me to just relax.
Navigating the experience of trying to conceive is by no means a walk in the park. Receiving a diagnosis of infertility or unexplained infertility is devastating for some. Your emotions and opinions are constantly in flux and it is likely friends and family around you won’t truly understand or be able to support you in a positive way. Grief, worry, frustration, sadness, anger, uncertainty, hope and loss…all bundled up in one is a lot to carry. Don’t do this alone. Find your tribe of fertility warriors!
The stress response in the body is automatic. It isn’t something that can be shut off with the magic words “just relax”. We are all exposed to stressors. The main difference is how your body processes that stress and evaluating the factors that contribute to the response. While there are many factors at play with infertility, it is worth taking a closer look at what “stress” is and some of the sneaky ways it can impede conception for both men and women.
Stress goes beyond emotions.
Many associate the definition of stress as strictly relating to emotional distress. How you feel about different people and situations such as work, money, relationships and travel are often associated with stress. But what if we take a step back and consider what stress actually is?
From a healthcare perspective, the word “stress” is describing a response to the change or increase of demand on the mind or body from a normal, balanced state. The resulting effects can be on your body, mood or even behavior. When your body is in a constant state of reacting, that is when it starts trying to correct or protect itself and maybe not always in the way you would expect or want.
For instance, you may be consuming a lot of sugar (stressor) and then your body has to fix that intake by producing and releasing the hormone insulin (stress) which then causes a sudden drop in your blood sugar levels leaving you feeling tired, shaky or weak. If you eat this way often, the insulin response may stop working properly and set you up for Type 2 Diabetes.
Before even trying to conceive, your body may have already been dealing with some obstacles. Add on all the new pressures of the infertility process and your body and mind may be in overload mode.
6 Sneaky Ways Stress Can Prevent Conception
- Stress affects ovulation. Stress can cause a domino effect by the way it disrupts the hypothalamus from sending the right hormone to the pituitary which then may prevent the release of the correct hormones to the ovaries for ovulation. Stress can change when an egg is released or prevent an egg from being released at all.
- Stress increases cortisol levels. When under stress your body produces extra adrenaline and cortisol. The problem is that progesterone is needed to make cortisol. Instead of progesterone being available to support conception and pregnancy, it is essentially stolen by the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. Your body may prioritize stress over pregnancy.
- Stress affects testosterone levels. It has been shown that elevated levels of cortisol can lower testosterone levels. Stress may also cause you to eat more, sleep less and experience emotions of depression, anger or anxiety which all compound and further affect hormones in the body.
- Stress can alter sperm count and motility. The pathway or reason why stress can change sperm production or sperm health is not clear but studies are trying to understand why subjective and objective stress is indeed causing an issue. One possibility is the release of a steroid called glucocorticoids and another may have to do with how your body deals with the free radicals that are produced and the body’s ability to counteract them.
- Stress can prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg. This is also an issue that should be addressed for embryo implantation when undergoing IVF and IUI procedures. Stress can affect hormones that reduce blood flow to the uterus and endometrial lining making it less receptive to implantation.
Stress can create spasms in the fallopian tubes and the uterus. In response to stress, your body may produce hormones that can increase muscle tension and result in a temporary blockage of the fallopian tubes and cramping in the uterus.
Reducing Stress & Improving Fertility Factors
You don’t need to become a yogi or meditation guru. However, moving your body and practicing a little mindfulness can go a long way. There are lots of easy small things you can start doing at home to help manage stress. Creating a bedtime ritual can often improve your quality of sleep. Talking to someone supportive who knows what you’re going through can release a lot of tension. Even making a little time to play with puppies or kittens can be helpful as animals have a wonderful way of calming us down. Acupuncture is also known for directly improving stress, sleep and fertility factors.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers a unique, individualized perspective to address unexplained infertility. TCM uses acupuncture, herbs, nutritional counseling and lifestyle/environmental recommendations. To learn more about acupuncture for stress reduction and fertility, we invite you to check out the Garden Acupuncture website.
When TCM is provided by a practitioner that specializes in fertility, and is properly trained and licensed, you can learn to breathe differently, eat differently, express your emotions honestly and rid your body of the negative effects of the stress response. Your body’s attention can be brought back to your reproductive organs in which many cases have been starved of circulation. Here are a few ways TCM contributes to positive fertility factors:
- Increased egg quality
- Improved blood flow to the uterus and uterine lining
- Decrease of blockages such as polyps and cysts that may prevent the process of egg and sperm meeting to create an embryo
- Decrease in spasms of the fallopian tubes and uterus which may cause temporary blockages and impede implantation
- Improves blood flow for placenta growth
- Improves sperm morphology, motility and count
- Restores energetic balance in the mind/body to help create a calm environment for a healthy pregnancy and birth
- Reduces stress response by acting on the nervous system and circulatory system