Fertile Frenzy: How Stress and Anxiety Impact Our Fertility

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Hi Friends!

If you’ve been trying to conceive, it’s no doubt that someone has told you, “just relax!” or “don’t stress!” Unfortunately, these tips aren’t as helpful and calm-inducing as our friends may think. The fertility journey is, at its core, a stressful experience, not to mention all the other stressors we face in our modern lives. It’s impossible to not stress!
But, the question that we are left with is: does stress have that much of an effect on our fertility and chances for a healthy baby? As it turns out, it does. Both conventional and Chinese medicine see stress and anxiety as factors that can reduce our chances of getting and staying pregnant.
If stress plays a major role in your life, however, don’t fret! There are many ways to help our bodies manage stress better and encourage a healthy reproductive system, no matter how stressed you are. Let’s dive in to find out how exactly stress and anxiety impact fertility – and what we can do about it!

How Do Stress and Anxiety Impact Fertility?

The question of whether stress and anxiety impact fertility has long stumped scientists and doctors. Recently, however, studies have shown that the biological and physiological effects of stress do impact the body’s ability to create healthy follicles or sperm, lay a healthy uterine lining, and maintain a healthy pregnancy. Here’s why:
Stress stimulates our fight or flight response and sympathetic nervous system.
The stress response is crucial for our body’s ability to face potential dangers and keep us safe. This response causes the famous “fight or flight,” allowing us to either get away from a situation or muster the energy to confront it. Our muscles activate, our heart races, and we are prepared to act.
This is an amazing survival technique when we are faced with true danger, but most of the time our stress is not life-threatening. Still, the stress response fires the same and we are left with the aftermath. Because we did not need to actually run away, scream, or fight our irritating coworker, a missed ovulation, or burnt dinner, our body never releases the pent up energy and tension that was caused by it. This tension lingers and we stay in sympathetic mode – and therefore don’t get the chance to rest, digest, heal, or nourish the reproductive system.
The stress response directs blood and nutrients away from the reproductive organs.
When we are in true moments of stress, having a baby is simply not at the top of the body’s to-do list. Our bodies are focused on keeping us alert, active, and alive now – not preparing a great quality egg or making sure there is a fertile uterine lining in place for later in the month. Blood, energy, and nutrients are shunted away from body systems that aren’t a top priority (like the reproductive system) and sent to other areas that need more immediate attention.
The trouble happens when we are regularly and chronically stressed or anxious. The body continuously shunts blood flow and nutrients to the muscles and brain and neglects the digestive and reproductive organs on a regular basis. Over time, this leads to poor reproductive health, reduced egg quality, and a thin or poor quality uterine lining.
Stress negatively affects our hormone balance. So much of our fertility relies upon a healthy hormone balance. It is the shifts and fluctuations in our hormones at the right times that allow the body to mature a healthy egg, ovulate, and prime the uterus for pregnancy. But when we’re stressed and anxious, the hormones easily fall out of balance and our menstrual cycles become irregular.
This is largely due to the hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is often called the “stress hormone” because it is so prominent in our stress response. When we are stressed, the body releases more cortisol to help us stay alert and act. Cortisol, however, is known to suppress the ovaries and throw the fertility hormones off-balance.

Holistic Wisdom: The Chinese Medicine Connection Between Stress and Fertility

The idea that stress affects our fertility is no news to a Chinese medicine practitioner! Chinese medicine teaches that the mind and body are one and that stressors of any kind are likely to have some impact on the body’s reproductive health.
Just as stress is known to shunt blood away from the reproductive organs in conventional medicine, Chinese medicine also recognizes that blood flow is limited during times of stress. Healthy blood and qi flow are necessary for the reproductive system to have the nutrients it needs to mature a healthy egg or sperm. Good quality blood flow also helps to create a lush and fertile uterine lining. Both acupuncture and herbal medicine can be used to help encourage a healthy pregnancy and relieve stress.
In Chinese medicine, fertility is not just about the ovaries or uterus – it’s also about the Liver system, the Heart system, the Kidney system, and more. These energetic systems encompass much more than we learn about in Western biology and actually have close connections to the body’s hormone balance, energy reserves, and fertility. Just as expected, stress impacts these systems and prevents them from functioning properly, leaving them stuck, weak, or imbalanced and our fertility takes a hit.

Stop the Stress with Healthy Habits

If stress and anxiety are known to reduce our fertility, what can we do about it? While we will never live stress-free, there are many ways we can improve our body’s resilience to stress and pave the way for healthier fertility and a healthy pregnancy. A low-stress, fertility-boosting lifestyle includes some (or all!) of these healthy tips!
  • Don’t multitask at mealtimes.
    If you’re trying to conceive, now is the time to ditch that habit of working through lunch or eating breakfast on the go. A relaxed mealtime that’s focused entirely on enjoying the food (no phones!) encourages the body to enter the parasympathetic system’s “rest and digest,” which encourages healthy blood flow and repair to the digestive and reproductive systems.
  • Stay current with your acupuncture treatments.
    Acupuncture has been proven to reduce stress both in the moment and in the long-run. With regular visits, your body learns to rebound from the stress response faster and with a reduced impact on the reproductive system. Plus, acupuncture is one of the best holistic therapies to enhance your fertility and ensure a healthy pregnancy. If you’re new to acupuncture, let’s find out if a treatment plan is right for you. Sign up for a free consultation here!
  • Meditate daily – even if it doesn’t feel “relaxing.”There are many ways we can fight the effects of stress, but meditation is one of the most effective ways to prevent stress and anxiety in the first place. Meditation is like physical training for your mind. It gives your brain the resilience to fight off stress before it even has a chance to cause problems. Meditation is also incredibly helpful to calm stress and anxiety in the moment, whenever it does get out of hand, but don’t worry if it doesn’t feel relaxing. It’s a practice and takes a bit of time to notice the changes, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t happening! Try general stress-relieving guided meditations, or opt for a fertility meditation for even more fertility support.
  • Don’t pass on exercise.
    When we’re stressed, sometimes the last thing we want to do is move. Exercise, however, is key for releasing the built-up physical and mental tension of stress. A good 30-45 minutes of exercise per day is enough to blow off steam and improve circulation to your entire body – including your reproductive organs.
  • Make time for laughter.Laughter is one of the best ways to clear away stress and improve your body’s overall wellbeing. But a chuckle won’t do it! Let yourself have a big belly laugh by reminiscing on old hilarious moments with your friends or tuning into a favorite comedy.
  • Give yourself a break. 
    Much of our stress comes from pushing too hard, too often. We pile our commitments too high, then feel terrible when we can’t accomplish everything. To make matters worse, we often skimp on sleep and relaxation to get everything done. As a result, our stress only builds and we are left in a more difficult position than before. 
    So, the remedy is to give yourself a break – both literally and figuratively! Schedule in 10-minute breaks 3 times during your day by setting an alarm on your phone. Use this time to meditate, go for a quick walk, or simply rest your head. Make a regular bedtime a key priority. Then, cut yourself some slack. No one can do it all – and certainly, no one can do it all and create a baby at the same time! Give yourself a little room to grow.

Find the Fertility Stress-Relief Plan For You

If you’re struggling with stress and anxiety while trying to conceive, I’m here for you! I know first-hand how difficult this journey feels, but also how transformational a few simple lifestyle changes and regular holistic care can be in achieving your fertility dreams.

It is my deepest passion to help people overcome their stress and anxiety and help them change their lives for the better. Let’s work together to create a fertility plan that’s perfect for you! Book your initial consultation or contact me to learn more.

Hi! I'm Angela

Acupuncturist, Herbalist, Integrative Wellness Consultant and Mood-Gut expert.

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