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The effect of stress on fertility

We’re all exposed to stress, every day. It is a normal physiological response to challenges we face at work, in our relationships, running errands or dealing with obligations. Stress has a natural role as our protection – it prepares our bodies to react to the imminent danger by offering two main responses, fight or flight. Sometimes this response can also manifest as being frozen (just think of a wild animal in front of car beams), but this option normally isn’t very beneficial for us. The other two options allow us to be alert, focused and quick to react. This kind of stress is necessary in risky situations and in the wild it is the only chance for survival.

However, in the modern human society, stress has pretty much evolved from necessary and helpful to chronic and deeply damaging. What used to be a quick physical response to outside influences, has turned into a way of living. We find it normal to be stressed out in traffic, at our workplace, even at home arguing with our partner about chores that are waiting to be done. This way of living creates detrimental consequences for both our bodies and our minds – let’s take a look how stress affects our bodies on a physiological level.

Physiological role of stress

StressWhen you feel in danger or when you start feeling annoyed or worried, your nervous system starts preparing your body for one of the previously mentioned responses – fight or flight. Your glands start secreting so called stress hormones, adrenaline, cortisol and others. These hormones influence your organs to prepare for a quick reaction – your heart starts beating faster in order to deliver blood to your muscles, so your blood pressure rises. You’re breathing fast, trying to get as much oxygen as possible and your muscles tighten, ready for action.

If you really are in danger and within seconds your body needs to react in order to save itself, once the danger is gone, your body will return to normal. This kind of stress doesn’t necessarily leave permanent consequences and shortly after the threat is gone, your heart beat and your breathing will be back to normal.

However, if you are influenced to maybe less dramatic at sight, but constantly present stress (and aren’t we all?), the long-term effects become much more serious. Chronic stress is one of the main culprits for many health issues such as high blood pressure, suppressed immune system, increased risk of heart attack and stroke, sped-up aging, etc. When stressed out, we’re more prone to becoming anxious and depressed.

The dangerous influence of chronic stress

Chronic stress also has proven effect on female fertility. Even though a woman may be physically healthy, emotional and psychological stress can be major factors in trying to conceive. A study performed at The Ohio State University College of Medicine showed that high level of alpha-amylase, biomarker of stress, in a woman’s saliva can be translated into more than twofold increased risk of infertility. Another study performed in Atlanta showed a connection between high cortisol level as an indicator of chronic stress and amenorrhea or lack of menstrual bleeding and ovulation.

If you have been trying to conceive for quite some time, than everyday stress is only the tip of the iceberg. Emotional stress that comes along with the unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant can be overwhelming, not to mention the stress coming from a constant battle to balance out professional life with private struggles. Stress also often comes from the lack of understanding of the environment, and even well-intentioned, yet highly uncomfortable questioning coming from friends or family members.

Worried girl
by Victor Bezrukov | CC

The medications commonly used in the infertility treatment often show side effects such as mood swings, irritability, headaches, fatigue or the feeling of sadness. When combined with injections, the stress increases even more.

All of these factors do contribute to stress levels you may experience when trying to conceive. The important thing to remember is that trying to conceive as well as any sort of infertility treatment or assisted conception procedures – take time. You will have numerous doctor appointments, tests, ultrasound exams, medications, and then more appointments and phone calls from the doctor’s office. That is why it is so important that you don’t forget about your mental health, as well as physical. An optimistic attitude and efficient relaxation techniques can help you deal with stress and increase your chances of success.

In the upcoming weeks we will be writing about different techniques you can use to de-stress and help your body and your mind relax.

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