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Stress and Fertility

How can stress impact fertility? All of us are subject to stress at one point or another in our lives, so this notion that one affects the other might sound a little strange at first. But when you stop and think about how the physiology of our bodies change in times of stress, you start to understand the deep relationship between the two.


You may have heard the term ‘autonomic nervous system’ before. This system impacts all the things in our bodies about which we seldom think. Heartbeat, blood pressure, breathing rate, even guiding the food we eat from one end of the tube to the other. Divided into three distinct parts: the sympathetic, parasympathetic, and the enteric nervous systems, the autonomic nervous system governs all of the millions of unconscious activities that go on while we move through our day. When we’re stressed out, our sympathetic nervous system kicks into gear, raises our heart rate and blood pressure, dilates our pupils, and shunts blood to our muscles, all to get us away from the big stressful bear that’s trying to eat us. Hence the term ‘fight or flight’. When we’re relaxed, we’re in a parasympathetic state. Here we digest our food, we go to the bathroom, we go to sleep, and we make babies. This is the ‘rest and digest’ state.


The autonomic nervous system touches on every hormone cascade that occurs in our bodies. But the kicker is that while incredibly smart, it can’t distinguish between the stress that comes with 60-hour work weeks, house hunting, family drama, and the bear that’s trying to eat you. So, even if there’s no bear, your body responds as if there is- and it’s harder to get pregnant from this place. Have you ever had a massively stressful event in your life and had your period come late or even skipped a month? Yep, that’s the result of mediators driven by that fight or flight response.


Let’s go a few steps beyond this. Maybe you’re here because you’re now under the care of a reproductive endocrinologist, a fertility doctor. Maybe you don’t like the news they’ve given you. Maybe you have to start an IUI cycle or you’re moving on to IVF. And on top of that 60-hour work week, you’re piling on trans-vaginal ultrasounds, tubes and estrogen pills where the sun doesn’t shine, and the delight of things like Lupron. Doesn’t sound super relaxing, right?


Of course, this doesn’t mean that your cycle will fail simply because you’re stressed out, not at all. But if there’s steps that you can take to improve your mood, or decrease the side effect of the medications, or to help you feel grounded and centered in the middle of this, then why not take advantage of them. This is where the beauty of things like qigong, meditation, and acupuncture really shine.