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Stress & Anxiety

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Does Stress Affect Fertility?

The short answer is ‘Yes’.

However, a more accurate answer is that stress affects some women’s capability to build a happy healthy family, and seems not to affect others.

You may have some friends that seem laid-back about almost everything and others who react strongly to the slightest stress. Most reactions to life stressors fall somewhere between those extremes. An article written by the Mayo Clinic states: How you react to stressors in your life is affected by such factors as genetics and life experiences. Fortunately, the article also goes on to mention that despite your genetics or bad luck you can learn to react to life’s stress in healthier ways by:

  • improving your diet
  • getting more quality sleep
  • relaxation, massage, and meditation
  • nurturing healthy friendships
  • having a sense of humor
  • counselling &/or acupuncture (The American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) recommends acupuncture for infertility stress reduction)
  • moderate exercise

  • From a strictly traditional Chinese medical perspective it is essential to determine the precise characteristics of the presenting ‘stress’, since each requires a unique treatment protocol. Therefore it is important to define stress. Stress has become a ‘catch all’ term for any physical or mental-emotional extreme (i.e. marathons, surgery, work pressure, anxiety, depression, etc) and this raises a point which I need to be absolutely clear about: the stress associated with infertility may be one of the most profound emotional strains a woman will ever experience, and it will manifest in various ways for different women. Talking to someone during this trying time to identify specific areas of stress and its manifestations is a great way to strategize solutions.

    After going down the peer reviewed research rabbit hole in an attempt to better understand how stress affects fertility, I have come to the following conclusions;

  • Stress can affect hormonal balance and ovulation.
  • Stress can affect sexual health in both men and women.
  • Stress may negatively affect IVF outcomes.
  • Stress may negatively affect the quality and quantity of sperm.
  • Stress may contribute to miscarriage by reducing blood and oxygen flow to the fetus.
  • More research needs to be done.

  • A potential problem arises with the increasing understanding of the role stress plays in infertility. In some women, stress can rise exponentially when they begin to understand that stress may affect their fertility. Fortunately, in my clinical experience, this knowledge is often the motivation required to dig deep and begin making empowered choices that facilitate change, and to do what is necessary to persevere on the journey toward family.

    Acupuncture & massage is well known for their potent effect on relieving stress. During these stressful times, finding coping mechanisms that work for you is important to optimize your chances of conception. Many couples turn to these treatments before and during their IVF cycles to help reduce stress and alleviate anxiety.

    When one is inflicted with high levels of stress the body reacts by flooding the blood with 'stress' chemicals that direct blood flow away from the reproductive organs. Blood is the messenger of nutrients, oxygen, and gonadotropic IVF medications to the developing eggs and uterine lining. This simple correlation emphasizes the need to manage stress and anxiety when trying to conceive and carry to term.

    Generally, 1-2 treatments per week in the weeks leading up to embryo transfer help reduce stress and optimize the ovaries response to IVF.

  • American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) Stress & Infertility Fact Sheet (PDF)
  • Article: Easy Pressure Points to Relieve Stress and Anxiety
  • Easy Pressure Points for Relief of Stress and Anxiety - handout (PDF)
  • Research section on Stress and Infertility
  • Articles and blog posts on Stress and Infertility