Most would agree, our lives and the world are stressful. Yet, even stressed people become pregnant. While the relationship between stress and infertility is not a simple causal one, current thinking by professionals is they are linked. Stress doesn’t directly cause infertility, but it may influence the ability to become pregnant- we just haven’t figured out how yet. For most individuals with infertility there is an identified physical cause (such as blocked tubes or a low sperm count), and treatments are started to address this cause, but it’s possible high levels of stress can make becoming pregnant more difficult.
When we’re in danger, the body’s response is to be ready to fight or run away- fast: adrenilin is released, the heart races, blood pressure and breathing increase. The body doesn’t differentiate between physical danger and stress. When we feel stressed, we also tend to do “fertility harmful” activities like smoke, drink and eat more, sleep less (insomnia), and have sex less because we’re tired.
To combat this “fight or flight” response, an opposing one is needed: a relaxation response. This relaxation response is characterized by lower heart and breathing rates and feeling less anxious. The good news is this more relaxed feeling persists beyond the actual relaxation activity. When a person is calmer/relaxed, decision making tends to be more rational and well-thought out, we feel more in control and better able to cope with obstacles of everyday life. Reducing stress can lead to a better quality of life during a time of intense personal challenge.
There is no one way to relax. Some persons choose exercise to cope, others prefer a quiet walk in the woods. Below are several stress reducing strategies you may find helpful.
Pick whichever ones work for you!
Yoga/meditation- is a physical/mental/spiritual practice involving breath awareness, meditation, and specific body positions to improve relaxation. It appears to blunt the harmful effects of increased stress by influencing your body’s response to the stress.
Exercise- can be a stress buster as it depletes the stress hormones and releases mood enhancing endorphins (runner’s high). Walking, biking, swimming or your activity of choice can be helpful -just don’t overdo it (30-60min per day) is fine.
Deep Breathing- taking slow, deep breaths (from the belly) relaxes muscles, decreases blood pressure, improves oxygenation so you feel less tired, and can be done anywhere, anytime.
Progressive relaxation- involves tightening one group of muscles and then consciously relaxing it. Start at the head and work down to the toes or vice versa. It helps you recognize when muscles are tensed and can ease the tension.
Nature- a walk in the park/woods is peaceful and many find it soothing; even pictures of nature-a seaside, mountain vista, or cute animals can decrease stress. Watching fish swim in an aquarium has been proven to lower blood pressure.
Sleep more- sleep is regenerative and allows the body to recover. Aim for 7-8 hours.
Journaling- writing your feelings and ideas down can clarify thoughts and decrease pent up emotion. A novel isn’t necessary, just a couple of minutes daily can be helpful.
Have sex- timing sex for fun, not reproduction, can help restore intimacy and a connectedness to your partner.
Acupuncture- very thin needles are inserted along lines of energy in the body that help balance the body to improve mental/physical conditions.
Talk with a pro- sometimes you need to “talk it out” with someone who is objective and understands what you’re dealing with. TFC can recommend psychologists who are very familiar with the emotional issues of infertility and its treatments; Resolve (www.resolve.org), the infertility support organization is also a source for support groups and professionals.