06 Apr Is Stress Impacting Your Fertility?
“On a scale of 0-10, how would you rate your stress?”
This was a question on a health intake form I recently filled out…and I was like “how am I supposed to quantify this?!”
Since stress can come from so many different areas of life- work, family, finances, infertility- it can be hard to put a number on it. The human stress response is nuanced and can change throughout the day, week, time of month, etc.
I think more importantly, we need to be asking “how do you handle stress?” and “how do you react to stress?” And “how do you know when stress is having a negative impact and you need help?”
- Are you losing sleep at night?
- Do you feel sluggish all day and wired when it’s finally time to sleep at night?
- Do you startle easily?
- Do you get irritable or snap easily?
- Do you struggle with indigestion, bloating, or reflux?
- Do you have irregular or painful periods?
- Have you experienced unexplained changes in weight?
- Do you get sick frequently or take a long time to recover from illness?
If you answered yes to more than one of the questions above, chances are, stress is taking a toll!
What does this mean for the reproductive system?
When our brain interprets something as stressful, it sends a signal to the adrenals to release cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones are necessary for survival – they help to raise blood sugar and redirect blood flow to the skeletal muscles in case we need to run from a lion…
Wait, what?! Yep, we have a stress response that hasn’t evolved to meet our modern lifestyles…most of us don’t need to run from lions…and yet most of the patients I work with describe symptoms consistent with chronic stress.
Back to the physiology here. When we are in fight or flight mode and blood flow is redirected to the skeletal muscle, it’s being directed AWAY from the digestive and reproductive tracts. When this happens chronically, we can start to see issues with hormone balance. Some women I work with will have obvious signs like irregular menstrual cycles, anovulatory cycles, and short luteal phases. In others, it’s more subtle but we see a characteristic pattern in their basal body temperature charts even if their symptoms aren’t super obvious right off the bat.
Learn more about Cycle Charting for Conception.
Can stress cause infertility?
Oof. It’s a big question, and there’s not a perfect answer. A 2018 paper published in Dialogues for Clinical Neuroscience discusses the role of stress on fertility and infertility on stress. The big takeaway: For some, stress may be a big enough barrier to be a part of the infertility diagnosis. But infertility definitely causes stress, so where in this vicious cycle can we catch a break?
The paper mentioned above states:
“…the most recent research has documented the efficacy of psychological interventions in lowering psychological distress as well as being associated with significant increases in pregnancy rates. A cognitive-behavioral group approach may be the most efficient way to achieve both goals. Given the distress levels reported by many infertile women, it is vital to expand the availability of these programs.”
My experience with treating infertility over the last 8.5 years agrees with these authors! I’ve seen monumental shifts in how people respond to stress after working in my group programs.
There is so much more on stress to discuss- trauma history, acute vs chronic stress, adrenal fatigue, using acupuncture for stress, supplements that calm the stress response, and more!
Until I get to those topics, I want to share some of my favorite books for understanding the stress response:
The Body Keeps the Score– this book is especially helpful for anyone who has experienced childhood traumas. Warning, this can be an intense read. I suggest also working with a licensed mental healthcare provider if you are triggered by revisiting past trauma.
Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers– a great read for understanding the acute vs chronic stress response and how stress can literally make you sick
For more support when it comes to fertility related stress, I have several options for support:
The Brilliant Fertility Program – a 4 month comprehensive fertility program to support the mind, body and soul on the fertility journey
Acupuncture! I offer acupuncture for fertility in Tucson, AZ. This can be a very effective way to calm the stress response, relieve mild to moderate anxiety and depression, get better sleep, increase blood flow to the reproductive organs and balance hormones.
***If you struggle with depression, anxiety, PTSD or any other mental health condition be sure to check with your mental health care provider for the best resources in your unique case. This post is for educational purposes only and is not meant to replace guidance from a licensed healthcare provider.