Throughout every fertility journey, you and your body go through a series of ups and downs. From bodily changes and shifts in mental health to effects of fertility treatments and changing family dynamics, the process of becoming pregnant can cause a great deal of stress along with joy. Those choosing to go down the in vitro fertilization route (IVF) route can best prepare themselves for any undue stress by understanding the cause and effects and equipping themselves with robust self care strategies before stress becomes unmanageable.
Can Stress Affect Fertility?
It’s no secret that psychological stress may prevent attaining and maintaining a pregnancy. Research shows that those experiencing issues with fertility have the same anxiety and depression levels as people with serious health concerns such as heart disease and HIV. However, what are the causes behind this psychological stress and how can you prevent it from impacting your fertility? For those electing to go through IVF, stress is often caused by the tumultuous nature of the treatment including time sensitive medications, side effects and the unavoidable waiting game that happens between rounds of IVF. In cases of failed pregnancies, women are more likely to self sooth with alcohol or smoking. Unfortunately both of these stress relief methods negatively impact the chance of conception.
How Does Stress Affect Ovulation?
If you think you’ve noticed your periods becoming long or irregular during stressful times of life, you aren’t wrong. Stress hormones like cortisol interrupt signaling between the brain and ovaries, which can interfere with ovulation. In some cases, stress can keep the egg from being released, causing a temporary delay in ovulation. In fact, approximately 25% of women under stress during their ovulation days are about 12% less likely to conceive. While stress is not the only culprit when it comes to infertility, managing stress levels can notably boost the likelihood of a successful IVF round.
How to Reduce Stress When Trying to Conceive
More often than not, IVF couples hear “just relax” when they talk about the stress of fertility issues. Unfortunately, the more you work at relaxing, the less relaxed you become. Proactively building strategies to alleviate stress before you’re incredibly stressed can help, but here’s a few for the here and now.
Practice Yoga: The practice of yoga is an ancient practice originating from India that seeks to strengthen the mind-body connection. A great deal of research has shown that yoga helps relieve stress, both in the short and long term. The majority of yoga instructors tailor classes to their students’ experience level as well – so you’ll never be out of your depth! You can also find plenty of free yoga videos online.
Cultivate Mindfulness: With so many decisions and unknowns flying around the IVF process, purposefully recentering yourself can help alleviate tension. If you’ve never dabbled in meditation, your fertility journey may be the perfect time to start. Fortunately, meditation doesn’t require any resources or special skills. Simply sit or lie in a comfortable position and focus on your breath. Allow thoughts to enter and exit your mind without paying too much attention to any specific idea. For specialized meditation goals or guided sessions, seek out books and online resources such as MARC, UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center.
Seek Out Support: No matter who you are or what your background is, your loved ones are there to help you through times of turmoil. Don’t be afraid to tap your support network when you feel overwhelmed. Talking through fertility roadblocks with friends and family can help alleviate the stress of IVF.
If you are already working with a psychologist or mental health professional, sharing your fertility journey is an incredibly important talking point. If not, beginning regular therapy sessions during this time in your life can help you before and after pregnancy. As a new mom, having a therapist by your side is an important resource to have. More mental health resources can be found below:
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine: The NAMI HelpLine (800-950-6264) offers 24/7 information and referrals for mental health professionals, treatment facilities, and support groups in your local area.
The Mental Health Professional Group: The Mental Health Professional Group provides lists of resources you can search by your city, state, or the name of a therapist.
The National Infertility Awareness Association: RESOLVE (866-668-2566) offers support groups, professionals, a help line, and an online support community to help you maintain good mental health on your family planning journey.
Black Mental Health Alliance: The Black Mental Health Alliance offers referrals to people looking for licensed, culturally competent clinicians for comprehensive behavioral and mental health treatment.
The Línea Nacional de Ayuda de SAMHSA: Línea Nacional de Ayuda de SAMHSA is a national, free, confidential, and 24/7 treatment referral and information service in Spanish that provides resources for individuals and families experiencing mental health struggles and substance use disorders.
The LGBT National Hotline: The LGBT National Hotline (888-843-4564) provides one-to-one peer support and a confidential, safe space for anyone to discuss issues with coming out, gender or sexual identity, relationship concerns, bullying, and self-harm.
Now that you understand the impact of psychological stress on fertility, we hope this is helpful to you and on your family planning journey. Understanding the causes and effects, while working to develop coping skills can greatly ease the impacts of untenable stress on your fertility. Reach out and make an appointment with the fertility specialists at Red Rock Fertility Center to discuss your next steps toward growing your family!