The Stress-Infertility Connectionby Katlyn Joy | February 17, 2012
It's the chicken or the egg question of the fertility world; does infertility cause stress or does stress cause infertility? The answer is, yes. Both are true to some extent.
Chronic Stress Versus Acute Stress in Fertility
Life can be stressful. Most people don't have perfectly peaceful lives that are free of change. Some stress, the so-called fight or flight syndrome type, is actually a positive type of stress and one that will affect us on a physical level for only a short time. Once the intense stress is removed or alleviated, the body returns to systems normal. This type of stress doesn't seem to have much bearing on a couple's fertility.
However, chronic stress is a different story. When people experience a regular high level of stress, the body reacts in ways that are detrimental to conceiving or even having normal sexual desire or performance.
Chronic stress may stem from unhappy relationships, difficult or demanding careers, overloaded schedules and health issues. Chronic stress may also arise from unhealthy methods of dealing with life's challenges.
How Stress Affects Fertility
One way stress can impact conception is by inhibiting the body's primary sex hormone, gonadotropin releasing hormone. This hormone is responsible for sperm production and health, ovulation and even sexual desire.
Stress also boosts an hormone inhibitor called gonadotropin-inhibitory hormone or GnIH, which in effect further reduces a couple's chances of pregnancy.
Additionally, a study from Oxford University and the U.S. National Institutes of Health published in 2010, measured the hormone cortisol and alpha-amylase which indicates a person's adrenaline levels in 274 women who were attempting to get pregnant. Those with the highest levels of alpha-amylase had significantly lower chances of becoming pregnant according to the findings.
How Infertility Raises Stress
Anyone who has struggled to become pregnant can attest to the fact that trying to get pregnant without success is a stressful life experience. Infertility-based stressors include:
- Concerns about whether they will conceive. If only one partner is indicated as the main reason behind the infertility additional pressure on that partner may be felt. Worries about what treatment should be undertaken, how long it will take and other concerns can be raised.
- Loss of autonomy in the fertility process. Infertility brings an audience to your most intimate moments. Questions about the most personal matters must be answered, normal biological processes are interrupted with technical ones and other intrusions occur.
- Financial stresses add up. Many fertility treatments are highly expensive and the stress of how to afford such methods can impact a couple. Plus, there are no guarantees that the treatment will work on the first, second or any try.
- Sexual pressures. Sometimes it's difficult to hook up even in the best of situations because of fatigue, other demands and schedules. Add in a time-pressured, "We have to do it tonight! I'm ovulating!" and you have the perfect recipe for an awkward or non-performing evening. No matter how much you love and are attracted to your partner, feeling forced to submit to a pressured schedule can just be too much at times.
- Societal pressures can cause stress. If your friends and family find out you are trying to get pregnant and months tick by with no maternity wardrobe, you'll likely be the unwilling recipient of advice such as "Do it every other day," or "Switch to boxers and drink cough medicine before sex." Plus there are always baby showers, diaper commercials and all those damn, "Baby on board," signs in every third vehicle on the road.
Ways to Reduce Stress
- Sleep well. Getting adequate rest is paramount. Your body needs sleep to perform well. Being overtired will add to your stress load.
- Eat nutritious meals and exercise regularly. Even if you just cut out caffeine and take regular walks you'll help your stress levels.
- Reconnect with your partner outside of sex or talk of pregnancies. You want a baby with this person for some reason, right? Don't lose sight of your partner as a person and don't see the other as a potential parent only.
- Keep up hobbies and interests that bring you pleasure. Enjoying the little moments can curb rising stress levels.
- Learn some breathing techniques, meditation or yoga. Practice it regularly and use it when moments threaten your equilibrium
- Give yourself permission to take a TTC break. Sometimes couples need a breather from all the pressures of baby-making pursuits.
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