How to deal with stress and infertility - take action against this problem now!

Emerging studies suggest that stress and infertility could have a connection. This applies for both men and women. Learning how to deal with stress may help with your chances of conceiving!

stress and infertility tense woman biting nails It's a proven fact that prolonged stress can cause many physical changes within the body. This emotion triggers neural and biochemical reactions, which in turn can affect the everyday functioning of our bodies.

Yes, we all do suffer from some form of stress! Some people seem to cope well in stressful situations, while others have great difficulty. Those who are prolonged to excessive stress, start to show signs of breaking down. These symptoms of stress are often first noticed through physical changes such as -

  • Tense muscles/cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Chest pains
  • Dizzy spells
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • And the list goes on and on!

When this happens on a regular basis, the body's immune system can also disintegrate (for example repeated coughs and colds) making us feel even worse.

Chronic stress can produce an abundance of the adrenalin hormones. This can lead to feelings of panic and overwhelming dread, which is known as the fight or flight mode. This response dates back to the earliest of times when humans had to survive in the wild (either fight or run away from danger). When things get to this stage, people often feel like they're loosing control.

All of these above reactions or symptoms, can lead towards more serious medical or mental health problems (such as depression) if not dealt with promptly. Luckily there're numerous avenues for help!

Stress and infertility are believed to have a relationship. However, we always advise regardless of any individual situation, for both partners to have a general medical evaluation by your personal physician. This includes running routine diagnostic tests. You can rule out or address any identifiable conditions that may contribute towards fertility problems. All couples should include this as part of their preconception care plan.

Stress is just one of many factors that can contribute towards infertility, but should always be taken into account for couples having trouble conceiving. This is especially the case if medical tests have shown no obvious explanations. The rates of unexplained infertility have been rising over the years, which is no surprise considering our increasingly stressful lives. Take a look at other lifestyle factors within our site, as these topics may prove to be educational for you.

How is stress and infertility linked?

How can stress and infertility have a connection? Here's a little biology lessen for you! The reproductive system begins within the hypothalamus which is a small cone shaped structure within the brain, located at the base. This structure is in charge of the regulation of all our bodily functions (homeostatic status). Neurohormones are synthesized and released, then compensatory changes are made where needed.

The pituitary gland (size and shape of a pea) is connected directly underneath the hypothalamus, and together they control many parts of the endocrine system (glands and hormones) as well as influencing the autonomic nervous system.

stress and infertility confused brain

A gland is a group of cells that produce and secrete chemicals within the body called hormones. These are the chemical messengers that transfer information and instructions for one set of cells to another. Each different hormone only relates to the cells that are genetically programmed to receive and respond to its signals.

When stress becomes chronic (all those circulating adrenalin hormones) the brain's signals to the hypothalamus get confused! This in turn can send mixed messages to the pituitary gland, which is responsible for secreting certain hormones essential for our sexual organs to function. The instructions that make certain biochemical reactions occur within the body are not working properly! This results in hormonal disturbances.

Research - The University of California, Berkeley (U.S.) studied possible links between stress and infertility. Researchers found that stress causes the adrenal gland to produce glucocorticoids (steroid hormone) which suppress gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) production from the hypothalamus. GnRH stimulates the pituitary to produce the peripheral hormones, luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone. These in turn stimulate the production of our major reproductive hormones testosterone and estradiol, plus sex drive. Stress also increases brain levels of another hormone named gonadotropin-inhibitory hormone, or GnIH which also reduces GnRH production. A double impact on the reproductive system!

Elizabeth Kirby (graduate student) is the lead author of this study. Published online - June 15, 2009 in the early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Hormones travel via the bloodstream. The blood flow to the reproductive organs can also be disrupted through stress. Are you beginning to see the relationship between stress and infertility?

Another theory by medical experts suggests that a stressed body can temporarily shut down some of the non essential bodily functions (including ovulation, sperm production, or conception). This is so that the body can put all of its energy into acting upon the presumed immediate threat to survival (fight of flight response). Numerous studies worldwide have suggested that stress can affect us in the following ways...

Men - these interferences can reduce sperm count, and/or bring about erectile dysfunction.

Women - hormone imbalances can upset ovulation by affecting the maturation and release of the egg. Stress can also cause spasms in the fallopian tubes and uterus which can prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg. There may also be a connection between stress and disruptions with the proteins within the uterine lining that involve egg implantation.

Many common health conditions brought on by stress can also have a negative impact on our fertility, for example high blood pressure or digestive disturbances.

Stress can also lead to alcoholism, smoking, drug use, or compulsive eating, as people use these as a temporary escape. These are all bad habits that can lead to infertility through developing related medical disorders. There are programs available to help give up these bad habits, so seek help if necessary (ask your personal physician for advise).

Stress and infertility can become inter-related. Trying to conceive can be an extremely stressful event, so however the stress first came about, a vicious cycle can occur.

Many couples have conceived after years of trying unsuccessfully following leaving stressful jobs. Sometimes a major change in lifestyle is required - for the better of course!

Resolving stress

If you suspect that stress is becoming a problem for you, do talk to a doctor, counselor, or a psychologist. These professionals are trained to help people in your situation. There are also relationship or marriage counselors that you could visit as a couple if you are having communication difficulties.

If work or income worries are the root cause of your stress, then perhaps you should put some thought into a sensible solution. This may mean talking to your boss and discussing your personal situation, changing hours, or finding a new position. Seek budgeting advice if necessary to manage your debts.

Other helpful strategies on how to deal with stress and infertility -

  • Books covering stress reduction techniques and relaxation methods - your local library may be helpful
  • Talking to friends or family
  • Learn a new hobby - perhaps enroll in a class
  • Play games
  • Regular daily exercise - different activities that interest you such as a bush walk, or going for a swim
  • Taking time out for yourself - paint a picture, read a magazine, or get out some dvds
  • Book in a massage or facial - try something relaxing
  • Yoga
  • Meditation

stress and infertility man meditating

Acupuncture is known to promote relaxation. Research has also shown how this treatment can help with certain forms of infertility. Check out

acupuncture and fertility!

Good nutrition can help the body become healthier, enabling us to balance out our stress levels. People often don't eat well when they are worried, tense, or nervous!

Certain foods can also help to re-balance hormones that are essential for our reproductive health. Read all about this subject in our fertility diet section within this website. There are also certain foods to avoid.

Discover the

importance of exercise towards the reproductive system. Daily exercise is important for our circulation, overall health, and general well being. Endorphins (the bodies natural happy drug) are released, and this helps with promoting positive thoughts.

Physical activity is a great release for the built up energy that stress causes. Give yourself some time, and you'll begin to notice that you're thinking clearer (getting rid of that dreaded brain fog) and also starting to relax. This is one of the most important ways of combating stress and infertility!

Last but not least, we must mention how important a good nights sleep is for us. The amount of sleep needed per night for each person varies. Some people cope well with only six hours sleep per night, while others need eight or nine. If you're sluggish during the day, feeling grumpy, or not coping well with your daily activities then you may need more sleep!

Do whatever it may take to have some fun again. Don’t let stress and infertility rule your life!

Return to top

Fertility health - Home page