Fertility issues or a delay in conception can cause an array of emotions to surface like impatience, frustration, disappointment and anger. But there is no one right mindset for getting pregnant and the fertility journey is a highly individual journey. While the relationship between stress and fertility has been debated and is not clear cut, we do know that women who experience infertility report higher levels of anxiety and depression, so it’s clear that infertility can cause a significant psychological impact. In fact, a very famous study from 1993 compared the psychological impact of infertility with the psychological symptoms of chronic health conditions in individuals living with cancer, heart problems, chronic pain and HIV.
We know that in stressful situations cortisol, a stress hormone, is released and can increase blood pressure, cause weight gain, or lead to other health problems, which may make conceiving more challenging. In one study, they studied women who had stopped ovulating for more than six months and found that they had high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Other studies have similarly shown that high levels of stress can dampen or shut down activity of the reproductive axis, which is responsible for regulating a woman’s period and allowing her to conceive. But this is not true for everyone. In fact, women can conceive under the most stressful circumstances including times of war, famine and pandemic. This may suggest individual differences that make it so that some women are more reproductively sensitive to stress than other women, just like some women are more vulnerable to mood or anxiety disturbances during their menstrual cycles or in pregnancy and the postpartum period than others.
If you are feeling overwhelmed with the rollercoaster of emotions, stress and worry around trying to conceive, here are some tips to help get through your day-to-day and hopefully aid in you getting pregnant.
Become comfortable with the fact that you have no control over the past or the future, only the present. The more we can stay in the present, the less depressed and anxious we feel. The simplest way to practice mindfulness is to go out in nature and engage your senses. You can also do meditation, yoga, breath work and progressive muscle relaxation.
Get into the habit of cognitive restructuring or reframing.
Thinking "everybody else gets pregnant so easily" only causes distress. Practice noticing your thoughts so you can stop and consciously reframe them. Because really if getting pregnant was so easy, there wouldn't be an entire field dedicated to assisting in fertility, for example.
This can help get some feelings out that you may not want discuss with your partner, friends or family
Stay connected as a couple.
Make sure you and your partner know that you are not to blame. Research shows that women handle infertility-related stress differently from men. Women more often seek social support while men lean towards problem-solving, which can cause discord or strain in the relationship. Constant focus on procreation, contributes to less joy around sex. So it’s important to stay connected as a couple and continue to enjoy each other in the way you used to so trying to still have sex even on non-ovulatory days and bringin in some spontaneity can be essential.
Planning to leave your job? It may be worthwhile to reconsider.
Don’t leave your job to reduce stress levels while going through fertility struggles, unless you wanted to leave anyway. Leaving is often counterproductive because any drastic change in daily life usually increases stress levels. Besides, familiar routines are usually more stress-reducing than unstructured free time.
Make time for play.
Try to take time to have fun and laugh and hold off on worrying and waiting to become pregnant. According to a Harvard study, a total of just 20 minutes a day of laughter or play can decrease stress symptoms by 50 percent.
If you enjoy working out, do it! Exercise is wonderful for boosting endorphins, but don’t take it too far. Too much exercise for women who are already stressed can make matters worse since exertion triggers the release of the stress hormone cortisol. You also don’t want to overdo it because significantly low body fat can result in amenorrhea or loss of menstruation, which makes conceiving more difficult.
Lean on your support system.
This can come in the form of family, friends, individual therapy, or a support group. A woman struggling to get pregnant needs someone who can empathize. And support groups or individual therapy can be especially helpful for women who feel isolated as a result of infertility since all too often these issues aren’t discussed openly.
Tell us about your fertility journey. Join the Perelel community on social or by subscribing to our newsletter.1 Domar AD, Zuttermeister PC, Friedman R. The psychological impact of infertility: a comparison with patients with other medical conditions. J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol. 1993;14 Suppl:45-52.
2 NIH study indicates stress may delay women getting pregnant. Nih.gov.
3 Herman JP, McKlveen JM, Ghosal S, et al. Regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical stress response. Compr Physiol. 2016;6(2):603-621.
4 Harvard Health Publishing. A 20-minute nature break relieves stress. Harvard.edu.
5 Find a support group. Resolve.org.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Perelel.