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Stress and Infertility: The Chicken or The Egg?

by Meredith Nathan, Pulling Down the Moon Massage Director

‘Just relax and you’ll get pregnant…’

Well-meaning friends and family offer advice like this with the best of intentions, but these words can be some of the least welcomed by a woman or couple going through fertility challenges. How do you ‘just relax’? Especially when every failed attempt and month that passes can bring disappointment, questions about your body, and anxieties about what the future holds? The truth is, infertility causes stress. But does stress cause infertility?

Not to oversimplify, but in some cases, the answer is actually yes. Though the connection between stress and fertility may seem vague and intangible, stress causes a very real physiological response in your body. Stress stimulates your sympathetic nervous system, the same nervous system that helped our ancestors run away from lions and tigers and bears! During this state, the body releases excessive adrenaline and cortisol, stress hormones that flood the body and compete with reproductive hormones for receptor sites. This can affect the hypothalamus, the pituitary glands, and create hormone imbalance in the body.

This sympathetic response may have helped our ancestors survive as a species, but it often gets over-taxed with today’ss constant deadlines, financial worries, and even rush hour traffic. Chronic stress depletes the body’s resources, and in its innate wisdom, it may start to shut down functions that don’t involve immediate survival (including our reproductive systems).

Starting to get stressed out reading this? Don’t! There are ways to proactively create relaxation in your life, and despite your circumstances you are in control! Building in time for long walks, warm baths, gentle exercise like yoga, belly breathing, aromatherapy, prayer, or meditation can go a long way. And if you are on this journey with a partner, engage him/her in the process. Give each other a massage, try a new activity, or enjoy a long, romantic evening together (remember, sex isn’t just for making babies – it’s a phenomenal way to relieve stress!). Though ‘just relax’ may not be the cure-all for every situation, creating relaxation in your life certainly can’t hurt! Not only does relaxation encourage a healthier body, it’s may just make this journey a lot more enjoyable!