That old adage about not stressing when you're trying to get pregnant? There actually may be something to it.
The female menstrual cycle is a dynamic process. The sex hormones estrogen, testosterone and progesterone dramatically impact a woman’s emotional state and her libido. At ovulation in particular, a woman’s dreams can be influenced by hormones, and her thoughts can become more sexual and her overall emotional state more heightened, which can then provide the perfect condition to get pregnant. But when stress gets in the way, fertility often takes a hit.
When a woman is stressed, her menstrual cycle can get out of whack. The hypothalamus, which is the center of the brain that regulates her endocrine system, can sense anxiety, and when it does, it can shut down and stop doing its job, which can then deregulate some of the hormones that trigger the ovaries to release an egg each month. The result? She may ovulate less frequently, which makes it more difficult to figure out her most fertile days. What’s more, research also indicates that stress can have an impact on other aspects of fertility -- from fertilization and implantation.
But it doesn’t stop there. Infertility itself can cause more stress, which can then stop you from having sex -- a pretty obvious fertility derailment. Many people who have difficulty conceiving often feel that the stress of trying to conceive ends up being the very thing that stops them from even trying. They have a hard time addressing the pressure that comes with failed attempts and can end up clinically anxious and depressed, which can, in turn, impede on infertility even more.
So what can you do to reduce stress and up your chances to conceive? Here are 5 tips:
1. Sleep. Getting too little sleep can cause hormonal imbalances, which can then make it more difficult to conceive. What’s more, sleep gives your body a chance to regenerate, recover and relax from a taxing day. So make sure you get the slumber you need. If you are waking up tired or feel like you’re dragging all day long, chances are you’re not sleeping enough.
2. Practice yoga and meditation. Taking the time to meditate, visualize and even pray can mitigate stress, balance hormones and promote fertility. Some cultures also use mantras and create music to help relax the endocrine system. These techniques bypass the rational mind to work outside of one individual's experience. When that happens, the nervous system has a chance to relax, and the stress hormones start to decrease, giving room for positive feel-good neurotransmitters start to calm you down and regulate your body. If you are not big on “om,” yoga is a great alternative. Picking up a yoga practice twice a week can help reduce the stress hormones that mess up with your fertility. Hatha yoga, in particular, focuses on breathing and slow, relaxing movements without putting too much emphasis on meditation.
3. Don’t take others’ experiences and comments personally. Though spiritual beliefs and meditative tools can help protect your fertility, some words and belief systems can have a huge impact on our emotional stress -- especially when they resonate with our deepest fears. When a friend, a family member or coworker express something that are at odds with your current psyche or make you doubt your body, take a step back, put that opinion aside and try to put it in a context that is not your own. In other words, do not take it personally.
4. Eat the right foods. Proper nutrition, which includes adrenal-enhancing omega oils and adaptogenic plants and herbs, will help balance stress hormones in your body and promote fertility. B vitamins also protect the nervous system, increase energy and heighten mood. A healthy diet, along with self-care, really is the best defense against the negative effects of environmental stress on fertility.
5. Have sex… for fun! Try not to let your sex life dwindle because you are too worried about getting pregnant. It’s common for couples who experience fertility issues to feel like sex has become more of a science project. But “it” should be fun and feel good, so do it when you’re not ovulating, too. You’ll (re)build the intimacy you may have lost when actively trying to make babies, and practice makes perfect, right?
Prioritizing your own well being isn’t just beneficial for your emotional health and fertility. It helps you model a healthy philosophy for your children and instill the foundations of a balanced life. It is never too early to begin this process. And because stress only tends to increase with the responsibility of modern motherhood, the earlier you integrate stress-reducing practices into your life, the more prepared you will be for the challenges that you might face as a mom.