Stress and fertility explained

stress and fertility

The relationship between stress and fertility has been a hot topic for discussion for years. It is well documented that women experiencing infertility report elevated layers of stress, anxiety and depression. However, whether stress causes infertility is inconclusive.

Women get pregnant every day in very stressful conditions, but we know that elevated levels of cortisol, the stress hormone released by the body, can have a negative impact on the body as a whole, especially when experienced for extended periods. This can lead to inflammation which in turn affects menstruation, ovulation and embryo implantation.

One study found women who had high levels of an enzyme that indicated stress known as alpha-amylase in their saliva, took 29% longer to conceive compared to those who had less.

Similarly, studies have suggested there could be a link between stress and sperm quality, affecting sperm concentration and motility as well as abnormally- shaped sperm.

Steps to managing stress when undergoing IVF

Stress is a normal part of everyday life, but the emotional rollercoaster of IVF treatment on top of usual stressors can be overwhelming.

Moderate, short-lived stress actually has several benefits: it can enhance alertness, boost performance and improve memory function. When your stress response includes oxytocin, it can literally strengthen your heart, according to a recent study.

Unfortunately, long-term and unmanaged stress can have a hugely negative impact on your mental, emotional and physical health and dealing with infertility and undergoing fertility treatment is often a source of chronic stress.

Tips for thriving during your fertility treatment include:

  1. Get informed: one of the best and most practical ways to deal with the stress of IVF is to know and understand what is taking place and each step of your fertility journey.
  2. Be open to emotional support: we ensure all patients are aware of the physical demands of IVF before they embark on treatment, whether that’s the blood tests or injections required or the procedures they’ll have to undergo, but we also offer individuals and couples access to counselling options that can help them cope with the emotional impact of IVF.
  3. Prioritise yourself: IVF can be both physically and emotionally draining so it’s important you do not take on new commitments that could overwhelm you. Do not be afraid to say no to requests, whether that’s from work or friends and family.
  4. Take control of what you can control: there are so many aspects of IVF that are beyond your control, whether that’s the number of eggs harvested or embryos that would result. It is essential to focus your energy on what you can control, which could be working on your coping mechanisms so you can face each challenge as it arises.
  5. Reframe negative thoughts: negative thinking can be a significant source of stress but learning how to control these thoughts can increase your emotional resilience and reduce anxiety.

At Aria Fertility, we offer patients the opportunity to access counselling support from the very beginning of their journey and in our  Support Hub, we provide a guide to some of the organisations and practitioners offering fertility support, advice and information.