With mounting pressure on women to “have it all” i.e. the perfect job, keeping fit, a growing family – it is easy to see how striving to achieve what is expected of us can lead to increased stress levels. There is growing medical evidence showing a link between high stress levels and infertility. Stress can not only be a cause of infertility but can also be an effect of the anxiety caused by the failure to conceive.
Stress can affect the body in many ways. In women, the chemical changes that occur during stressful times can prevent the egg from maturing and releasing. It could also cause spasms in the fallopian tubes or womb which could affect implantation. Chronic stress in men may cause a lack of libido and potentially adversely affect sperm count and motility.
The day to day issues of trying to conceive such as numerous medical tests and procedures, failing to get to the bottom of a fertility issue and the inability to conceive a desperately longed-for child can combine to create a very stressful environment.
Of course a certain amount of stress is desirable in your life. It helps with creativity, learning and your very survival could rely upon it. When stress overwhelms your nervous system your body is flooded with chemicals that prepare you for “fight or flight”. Whilst the stress response can be lifesaving in emergency situations where you need to act quickly, it wears your body down if it is constantly activated. Stress only becomes harmful when it is overwhelming and interferes with your nervous system's ability to remain in balance.
If your nervous system is out of balance, relaxation techniques can bring it back into a balanced state by producing the relaxation response, this is a state of deep calmness that is the complete opposite of the stress response, which leaves the body relaxed, calm, and focused. The relaxation response puts the brakes on a heightened state of readiness and brings your body and mind back into a state of equilibrium. A variety of different relaxation techniques can help you bring your nervous system back into balance by producing the relaxation response.
No two people react to stress in the same way, just as no two people will respond in the same way to relaxation techniques. So choose one that suits your specific needs, preferences and fitness levels. You may find that alternating or combining different techniques will keep you motivated and provide you with the best results.
Effective methods of relaxation include deep breathing, meditation, rhythmic exercise, and yoga. Fitting these activities into your life can help reduce everyday stress and boost your energy and mood and bring your nervous system back in to balance. It is recommended that you set aside at least 10 to minutes a day for relaxation techniques, although 30 minutes would be even more effective.
Whilst managing stress does not in itself guarantee a successful fertility outcome, there is powerful evidence that it can help. Therefore stress relief should be part of a couple's conception plan – whether they are trying to conceive naturally or through assisted fertility.