Fact or Fiction: Does Stress Affect Fertility?
If you’ve ever told someone that you’re having trouble conceiving, I’m sure you’ve been told “just relax and it will happen”, or “don’t stress, because you won’t become pregnant if you’re stressed”. These responses don’t only put the blame on you, they also give you the false impression that your stress level is hindering your ability to become pregnant. There have been many research studies that look at the relationship between stress and infertility; it has been shown that infertility most definitely causes stress, but can’t say with certainty that stress causes infertility. No study has been conclusive, but there have been robust studies that suggest emotional distress does not affect a women’s chances of conceiving. This is not only reassuring, but makes sense; throughout history women have been able to conceive even when they’ve been subject to extreme stress and even under the most dire of circumstances. Taking part in relaxation techniques or figuring out ways to destress can always be helpful, but placing the blame of infertility on a women’s stress level is counterproductive. Feeling stressed about being stressed is all too common for women undergoing infertility treatment.
Since we know that infertility does directly cause a person’s level of stress to rise, it may be useful to take advantage of some relaxation techniques to help cope with the stress of infertility. Some healthy ways to destress during fertility treatment is yoga, acupuncture, meditation and breathing exercises. There has been some research to suggest that these activities may increase pregnancy rates, but regardless of their efficacy, if they help you relax a little bit they may be worth trying. Finding healthy and productive ways to unwind and destress as much as possible will make the burden of fertility treatment more tolerable. The upside of taking part in some of these exercises is that they will undoubtedly help you in the future. Any healthy coping mechanism you develop during this time you will be able to fall back on when faced with stressful situations.
Going through infertility is undoubtedly stressful—even for those who generally cope well and become pregnant after just 1 treatment cycle. In fact, a study reported in the Harvard Mental Health Newsletter, concluded that half of the women and 15 percent of the men said infertility was the most stressful experience of their lives. Patients often say that they feel guilty for feeling so distraught over their fertility struggles; after all, they will often say that they could have a more dire diagnosis, such as cancer. However, studies have shown that patients diagnosed with infertility experience similar levels of anxiety and depression to those going through cancer treatment. This is usually one of the first “life crises” a couple or individual faces and that in and of itself can be earth shattering, especially when friends and family are getting pregnant and having babies. Many women and men also do not share their struggles with fertility with friends and family, which can lead to higher levels of anxiety, depression and distress. There are many reasons a person may choose to keep their struggles with infertility private, but in general, it helps to have at least one trusted person you feel like you can talk to about treatment. This person may be a family member, friend, or even colleague, but make sure it is someone you feel comfortable with and can trust. Going through fertility treatment can feel isolating, so staying connected to trusted individuals in your life can help ease the burden. It may also be helpful to consult a mental health professional if you’re feeling stressed, anxious or depressed and may benefit from additional support and evaluation. Sometimes insurance plans have behavioral health specialists who specialize in fertility available for consults, or they can refer you to someone in your insurance network. It is completely normal to feel stressed while going through fertility treatment, but remember, you do not have to do it alone.
Author: Alyssa B., Licensed Clinical Social Worker and WIN Behavioral Health Care Manager