Updated: Nov 17, 2022
The short answer is yes, high stress levels can definitely affect your chances of getting pregnant!
Stress can play a large roll in cases of unexplained infertility, and it unquestionably makes any infertility situation worse. That said, however, it's important to note that stress doesn’t cause endometriosis, blocked tubes, PCOS or many of the other frequent culprits of infertility.
What is Stress?
Let’s take a quick look at what stress actually is. The feeling of stress signals to our bodies that something is wrong, we’re being threatened, and we need to take action. That feeling triggers the famous “fight-or-flight” mechanism in our bodies:
Immediately we start producing stress hormones: adrenaline (epinephrine), cortisol and norepinephrine.
Our heartbeat, blood pressure and breathing rate all go up.
Blood flow and energy are diverted from non-essential body functions so that we get a burst of energy to use in either facing the threat or running away from it.
Once the threat has passed, our bodies gradually calm down and all systems go back to normal.
This mechanism is perfect to get you out of the way of a car that comes speeding toward you from out of nowhere, but it’s not really designed for our modern lifestyle of continuous stressors. From tight work deadlines, to social media feeds, to packed schedules and yes, to infertility, we never get a break. And when the stress response runs continuously, there can be big trouble: anxiety, sleep disorders, heart problems, digestive problems. And lower chances of getting pregnant.
Why Does Stress Lower My Chances of Getting Pregnant?
Remember, up above when I mentioned that when the fight-or-flight mechanism is triggered, the body gives preference to the systems absolutely necessary for your survival? Well, reproduction isn’t at all necessary for your survival, and in fact, your body views pregnancy as a bad thing during difficult times. So:
Blood supply to your uterus is decreased which means you don’t get a good, thick uterine lining.
Stress hormones signal your body to make fewer reproductive hormones which can, among other things, cause problems with ovulation. (They can also make you less receptive to fertility meds!)
And to cap it all off, your sex drive goes down.
You might be thinking to yourself, “But my sister/friend/co-worker is a stress-aholic and she had three children without any trouble.” It’s entirely possible. Everyone is different, and everyone’s body responds differently to chronic stress.
How to Get a Handle on Stress and Increase Your Chances of Getting Pregnant
If you are struggling with infertility, it's really important to create a relaxation habit. Much in the same way that you have good eating habits or good movement and exercise habits, you've got to have a plan and be consistent with your relaxation for it to really have an impact.
Here are a couple of ideas to get you thinking about a relaxation habit that might work for you:
Make a list of all the things you really enjoy doing. Take time each week to do at least one of them.
Write about the way you’re feeling, the things that worry you, or anything else that seems appealing.
Move more. Anything goes here, as long as you enjoy it. It could be a trip to the gym, gardening, or even dancing in your bedroom.
Laugh more. Laughter really is great medicine. Spend some time with the books, movies, and people who make you laugh.
Put aside some time every day to get lost in a great book.
Take a few minutes each day, or several times a day if you like, to just sit quietly and focus on your breath. It’s surprisingly simple and effective.
Practice meditation, yoga, or another mind-body technique.
If you feel like you could benefit from even more help managing your stress, please get in touch with me and we'll talk about how I might be able to help you!