Intuitively, it makes sense that stress impacts fertility in a negative way.
We know that unchecked stress can impact your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. We also know that stress can lead to many physical issues, including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. If you stress animals with over-crowding or limitations to food access, their fertility rates decrease. With more comfortable surroundings and access to food, they quickly begin to reproduce normally. Is there also a connection between fertility and stress in humans?
The correlation between stress levels in women and the time women take to get pregnant was first documented in a study published by Courtney Lynch, PhD and her colleagues at Ohio State University. Her study demonstrated that women who had the highest levels of a stress-related hormone when they began to try getting pregnant were twice as likely to go on to experience infertility as women who had the lowest levels.
Even without knowing that decreased stress is linked with higher fertility rates, we know that infertility is, in itself, extremely stressful.
Women who are experiencing infertility report the same levels of anxiety and depression as do women with cancer, HIV+ status, or heart disease.
Dealing with infertility is truly difficult. In many cases, the infertile couple is surrounded by fertile family and friends. Even the company or sight of children can trigger feelings of jealousy, anger, or sadness. Doctor appointments may lead to frequent work absences, stressful in itself, but even more so if there is discomfort stating the reason for the work absence or if made-up excuses are necessary. Even an infertile couple's sex life can become a source of stress, as they begin to associate sex with failure. Treatment costs often add exponentially to these other stresses, so it should come as no surprise that most individuals experiencing infertility feel irritable and sad.
Skills for coping with stress are useful for increasing both fertility success and overall quality of life. Coping skills decrease feelings of sadness and anxiety. They also decrease the odds of dropping out of treatment. Women who are depressed before they start infertility treatment are far more likely to drop out of treatment after only one cycle, thus limiting their chances of getting pregnant. Numerous studies show, however, that women who learn specific stress-reduction skills risk less anxiety and depression and have significantly higher pregnancy rates.
Increasing a sense of control is often helpful in decreasing stress level. Some suggestions to regain a sense of control in your life include:
A Mind/Body Group: Research shows that women who attend a Mind/Body group not only see their level of depression and anxiety return to normal, but also double their chance of pregnancy. Mind/Body groups work by combining social support with specific stress-reduction training.
Therapy: If you are unable to find a local Mind/Body group, consider seeing a therapist who specializes in infertility counseling, and ask to learn the skills taught in Mind/Body groups.
Social Support: Infertility can be isolating, especially if you don’t share what you’re going through. Connecting with other women in the same situation is invaluable.
Each individual has his/her own unique response to stress, and you may notice that you and your partner respond differently to the same trigger. This is natural and normal. You are each coping in your own way. Support one another through the stress of infertility by respecting each other's coping style.
Dealing with loved ones outside your primary relationship can be even more difficult, especially if they have not experienced infertility. Friends may have positive intentions, but their attempts to support you can sometimes feel hurtful.
Infertility is not a permanent crisis. Keep this in mind. Although infertility is emotionally painful, it will not have a permanent negative impact on the quality of your life. Most people who receive treatment do ultimately conceive, and if not, there are many ways to create a family.
To learn more about how the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health's services can help to decrease stress, contact us for more information or to schedule a visit.
We look forward to speaking with you, and will be in touch as soon as possible!