Stress comes in many forms. A fight with a family member. Looming deadlines at work. An unfair boss. Financial worries.
You probably already know how stress can affect you physically. For example, maybe you tend to over-eat when stressed; or perhaps you don't eat at all.
But there's another sneaky side effect of stress on your health if you're trying to get pregnant. Stress unfortunately can also impact ovulation, and as a result, your fertility.
If you've been trying to get pregnant to no avail, you may have heard the (often infuriating) advice to "just relax." Or worse, "it'll happen when you stop worrying so much!" While these well-meaning phrases may feel obnoxious, they also have a grain of truth to them.
How Stress Affects Fertility
There are a few ways that external stressors in your life can impact your fertility. First, lifestyle choices caused by stress may affect your ability to get pregnant. For example, maybe stress is preventing you and your partner from getting busy on a regular basis, or during your ovulation. Or perhaps stress causes you to drink too much alcohol, or not get enough sleep — other factors that can also affect your ability to get pregnant.
Studies also suggest that stress has direct negative effects on your fertility. One 2010 study found that women with high levels of alpha-amylase, an enzyme that correlates with stress, have a harder time getting pregnant. These women did not have any prior issues with infertility.
Research from 2009 also shows that chronic anxiety, depression, and stress, consistently activate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, our central stress response system. This can lead to hormonal disturbances that prevent normal ovulatory cycles, and cause reproductive problems.
Still, the exact mechanism by which stress affects fertility isn't completely understood. Some women under intense stress or pressure can still get pregnant, which suggests that some women are just more sensitive to stress in terms of their reproductive health, as Alice Domar, Ph.D., director the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health in Boston explained to U.S. News & World Report.
Plus, the stress of not getting pregnant can be a viscous cycle. "If you are stressed and you don't get pregnant quickly, then you get more stressed," Domar added.
5 Steps to Lower Your Stress
The good news: There are tried-and-true methods you can try to reduce stress in your life, and as a result, boost your fertility.
In one study, doctors at Emory University studied women who had stopped ovulating for more than six months and found that they had high levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. After receiving stress management therapy, seven out of eight participants began ovulating again, versus two out of eight who got no intervention.
Here are few ways to bust stress in your own life.
1. Lean on your partner. You don't have to go through this alone. Research shows that women handle infertility-related stress differently from men, with women often "faking "a more positive attitude than they feel internally. Talk about your struggles with him, but don't let it sap the joy or fun from your relationship. Keep going on date nights, take an impromptu trip, and try other ways to bring the romance back into your life.
2. Look into alternative stress-reduction methods like acupuncture. If you're into trying some Eastern medicine, acupuncture can help reduce stress and tension. Massages are also great.
3. Move your body. Do any workout that you love, but yoga classes can especially help reduce stress. Here's a relaxing yoga routine for stress relief. Long walks in nature are also shown to reduce stress and anxiety.
4. Practice mindfulness. Download an app like Headspace or Calm can introduce you to meditation and deep breathing exercises. These are proven to help reduce stress.
5. #Treatyoself. Get a manicure/pedicure. Book a beach vacation. Go see that movie. The more things you do that make you happy, the higher your dopamine levels will be, and the less stressed you'll be.