You’ve heard it a million times before from well-intentioned friends and family members to complete strangers on the internet: stress and getting pregnant don’t work well together. You get it. Stress is a big no-no. But also, kind of unavoidable, especially in the world we live in today, right?
So what is the real deal with stress and fertility? What is myth, and what is fact?
Luckily for us, Professor Greg Anderson from the Centre for Neuroendocrinology at the University of Otago in New Zealand has some answers for us. We asked him about his latest research findings on the impact of stress on reproduction.
Read on to discover the real story behind stress and fertility. (From a bonafide expert.)
If You’re Trying to Conceive, You Need to Work on Reducing Stress
It’s not just a myth. Stress affects fertility.
Up until recently, the link between stress and fertility was fuzzy. But Professor Anderson’s latest work bridges the gap between the two. In this new study, researchers identified a group of RFamide-related peptide (RFRP) nerve cells in the brain that become active in stressful situations.
What do these nerve cells do when they become active? They suppress the reproductive system.
So, now that you know there’s physical evidence to back up these claims, what can you do about it? We asked Prof. Anderson what he recommended to curve the effects. From keeping our screen time in check to closely observing our nutrition and overall lifestyle, here’s what he suggests for reducing stress and boosting fertility when trying to conceive.
1. Take a stress inventory
Keep a record of your week and take note of how often you’re getting frazzled. Are you going through the kind of stress that seems never-ending? Chronic stressors like surviving a toxic work environment or constant bickering with your partner can suppress fertility and risk your chances of getting pregnant.
Take a close look at how you’re responding to stressful situations. Some people will be more affected by stressful situations than others. Since many of us aren’t able to remove ourselves from difficult circumstances or avoid stress entirely, we should focus on building up our resilience so we’re better able to adapt to adversity.
2. Stop obsessing (and yes, that means Googling)
Infertility anxiety is natural. But when it comes to getting pregnant, keeping your stress hormones regulated can improve chances. Obsessing over trying to conceive is like a vicious cycle. Though it’s not easy, you must tamp down the late-night scrolling on fertility forums (like way down).
Research shows women struggling with infertility experience more significant stress in their life compared to women without fertility challenges. While tempting, Googling every other minute only elevates your cortisol and exacerbates the effects of stress and fertility.
3. Eat well and sleep even better to increase your chances of getting pregnant
Hey, we all love good comfort food – especially when things get stressful. Sadly, not all foods are created equal.
Turns out, what you eat can make a massive impact on how you feel emotionally.
Before your next trip to the grocery store or ordering take-out, consider this:
A stress-management diet can help build up your immune system and keep stress at bay. That means steering clear of simple carbs like sweets and soda and adding fatty fish into your diet to prevent surges in stress hormones. Researchers find that diets high in unsaturated fats, whole grains, vegetables, and fish have been associated with improved fertility and your chances of getting pregnant.
Equally important to staying mindful of your diet is engaging in good sleep habits. If you know that you’re not getting good sleep, that’s likely to contribute to chronic stress. And, in turn, likely to hurt your chances of getting pregnant.
According to Prof. Anderson, all of these things are a part of a whole package. But it all comes down to setting your intention. He recommends looking at the things that start making your mind go crazy at 10 pm each night.
Tell yourself, “I’m not going to do those.”
Tonight, when it’s time to unwind for bed, try one of our sleep meditations to reduce mental distractions.
4. Strengthen your relationships
The coronavirus pandemic has upended many of the ways we socialized previously. But it’s essential to look at the support structures you have in your life and think of how to build those up. Do you have regular Zoom meetings or outings with friends and family or connect to online/in-person support groups? These things often slip, but it’s something you need to work on actively.
Having a community you can rely on is essential for keeping your stress levels down while trying to conceive.
5. Self-awareness is key while trying to conceive
Don’t think about forming new healthy habits simply as a way to improve your chances of getting pregnant.
Instead, professor Anderson advocates for thinking about the bigger picture: building a life where you are now while also planning the future you want.
What areas of your life feel out of control?
Anderson recommends taking an honest look at stressors like your career. If you’re constantly running on all cylinders, you might try to go down two-thirds of a full-time career for the sake of your mental health at this moment (and your chances of getting pregnant.)
6. A mindfulness strategy can help
Mind-body practices like meditation increase your chances of getting pregnant by decreasing stress and fertility issues. Mindfulness practices promote the release of pregnancy hormones from your brain and ovaries, helping you if you’re trying to conceive.
There are many different types of stress and they all have the potential to impact fertility. Cultivating a mindfulness strategy is one of your best antidotes against the effects of stress and fertility.
But it also does something else: it helps build your self-compassion so you can trust the process. When you’re having a tough day on our fertility journey, it’s comforting to know you can always turn to this crucial tool and be more gentle with yourself.
Professor Anderson’s Advice on Reducing Stress While Trying to Conceive
- Meditate: Working on getting pregnant can be a time full of hope, but it can also feel overwhelming when you’re in the thick of it. Meditating for just 10 minutes a day can help you feel calmer and prepare your body for conception.
We recommend these specific meditations:
Finding Calm: A meditation for the 2-week wait
Ovulation: A cycle meditation to support conception
Free & Easy: A melodic sound bath for sleep support
- Listen to others’ stories: Learning how others coped with uncertainty and came out on the other side can help you feel more grounded and optimistic.
Check out these inspiring stories:
Listen: TTC as a Two-Mom Family
- Get off social media: Scrolling through baby photos or your BFF’s gender reveal celebration will only add to your stress. Disconnecting for a little while is one of the best ways to immediately center yourself and improve your chances of getting pregnant.
- Find a support group: You don’t have to go it alone. Wherever you find yourself on your fertility journey, finding support from other women and couples who have been through similar challenges can provide you with the connection and validation you need.
Prof. Anderson serves as a valuable resource to anyone in trenches of fertility. And while we would never tell you to “Relax! Don’t stress!” (because we HATED that when we were going through fertility), we do hope you’ll try out some of these evidence-based tactics provided by Prof. Anderson. We are all rooting for you here at Expectful – please know there is a place for you on our app. Download now to listen to our fertility-specific meditations.