Integrative, or “mind-body” therapies are defined as complementary and alternative therapies used to address the “ways in which emotional, mental, social, spiritual, experiential, and behavioral factors can directly affect health.” The understanding is that the brain interacts with the rest of the body, impacting our physical health – including fertility.
Stress levels are powerful. Chronic stress can run the body down causing normally functioning systems of the body to “shut down” (even if temporarily) so that the vital functions of the body – heart, lungs and nervous system – can maintain function to keep us alive. Since the reproductive system is not necessarily vital to keep us alive, it shuts down if there is excessive stress. It is well known that girls stop having menstrual periods during intense periods of mental or physical stress. Pregnancy and lactation require huge amounts of energy to be successful. If stress is severe enough, then survival requires a shift of energy away from reproduction.
Research has shown that stress impacts fertility by causing high levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline, catecholamines and cortisol. These can inhibit the release of the body’s “master” reproductive hormone, GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone), which is produced by the Hypothalamus. GnRH is responsible for the release of the sex hormones, LH and FSH. LH and FSH stimulate the gonads (ovaries in women, testes in men) to produce gametes (eggs and sperm) and sex hormones (estrogens and androgens). When GnRH is suppressed by stress, tumors, or medications, this leads to suppression of normal ovulation in women, sperm count in men and sexual activity and hormone balance in both women and men. Infertility definitely causes varying levels of stress, but stress from our daily lives – work, a commute, an overbooked schedule, managing a home and the demands of family – also impact our levels of stress. It is important to create a stress reduction plan for yourself that includes mind and body therapies, as well as a few small indulgences, that you can use at a moment’s notice and in any stressful situation.
People living with high stress levels often choose poor dietary and lifestyle habits. It is critical to maintain good nutrition and avoid smoking, drugs and alcohol use in the months leading to conception. A healthy diet goes a long way toward improving fertility, with higher pregnancy rates in women who eat poly- and mono-unsaturated fats, high quality carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, and lean meats and fish. High intake of Omega-3 fish oils are beneficial, and have beneficial effects on uterine blood flow.
Chronic stress may cause lack of libido as well as a decrease in general fertility. Having sex on a schedule can be very stressful, and sometimes sex becomes impossible. Men can have erectile dysfunction due to performance anxiety. Sometimes behavior modification with stress relief can cure the problem, and natural conception can occur.
It is important to consider stress levels if you have been trying to conceive with no results. Stress may cause subtle effects on ovulation and implantation due to abnormal hormone levels. Stress relief should be a part of every couple’s conception plan regardless of whether they are trying to conceive naturally, or going through fertility treatment.
Reducing Stress for Fertility
In you are having difficulty conceiving, stress may very well be a factor. If you have had fertility tests performed and have found that there is no medical reason for your infertility, it is time to evaluate your life and determine how much stress you have. Of course, you may not even have need for an evaluation. You may know you are stressed. In that case, it is time to start defeating that stress to help your fertility.
1. Reduce the stress in your life.
This of course if obvious, as well as easier said than done. Reducing the stress in your life is so important on many different levels. It will not only help your fertility and health but also your quality of life. If your job is really stressful, maybe begin to look for a different job or occupation. If that is not possible, some of the tips below will help you to deal with your stress differently than how you currently are.
2. Change how you react to stressful situations.
When faced with an ongoing stressful situation there is only one thing you have control over… how you react. Pay attention to how you react to the stressful people at work, or to your stressful situation. Do you turn it over in your head all night long, do you create scary future visions of what could happen? Getting control of how you react will have a big impact on what happens inside of your body when a stressful situation presents itself. This takes some attention and practice.
3. Have a practice or habit that helps you to reduce stress.
Here are some suggestions of practices or daily habits that help reduce the effects of stress on your health.
- Make sure you are getting enough sleep
- Get an adequate amount of healthy exercise daily
- Start practicing Yoga
- Seek counseling
- Consume caffeine free tea, such as chamomile
- Use bee pollen, lemon balm, and maca root
- Read a book in the park
- Take warm baths
- Surrender and let go
- Fertility Meditation
4. Three Books that may help transform stress.
These books may help you find new ways in how you react to stressful situations.
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Loving What Is by Byron Katie
The Power of Less by Leo Babauta