We throw this term around a lot, often leading to it losing its impact. Its also such a subjective term, so it can be hard for people to identify whether or not they are stressed until they are in an extreme state. We see this a lot in clinic & it’s especially prevalent when it comes to fertility.
Anyone who’s tried to fall pregnant will know that it can be a very stressful & emotional time. Patients can often feel in limbo, waiting for one cycle to the next with little control over the process. It’s a very tense time & the longer it takes, often the more anxious & emotional the whole process is. Keeping stress to a minimum during this time is particularly important as it can directly affect fertility. Let’s look a little deeper.
When it comes to hormones responsible for our ability to develop & release the egg, as well the ability to hold a pregnancy, we have to look at the function of the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a gland in the brain which talks to the anterior pituitary, initiating a further conversation with the ovaries to stimulate follicle production. This is a complex & sophisticated self regulating system that keeps everything working reproductively the way its meant to.
However, if there is an issue with the hypothalamus, the anterior pituitary doesn’t get its orders & the system fails. This can lead to insufficient hormone levels being released, which are necessary for the growth of the egg. Therefore potentially delaying ovulation or completely switching it off.
Stress & emotional upset can disrupt the function of the hypothalamus.
Why? Well as part of the limbic system the hypothalamus is very responsive to emotional triggers. So the more stress & anxiety someone experiences, the more likely the hypothalamus is to stop functioning properly, causing dis-regulation of fertility hormones.
At the time of ovulation, stress can also cause the muscles of the fallopian tubes to tense & contract so that the egg is unable to move to the uterus. Furthermore, stress can also impact the state of the cervix & uterus, making it more difficult for the sperm to reach the egg.
Therefore, it is very important for women trying to conceive, to actively look after their mental & emotional well-being, which is often overlooked. So what does this mean? Well, just as we all respond to stress differently, finding ways of minimising it can be different too.
Meditation is a commonly used practice to reduce stress, quieten the mind & enhance well being. For others using their bodies can help get them out of their heads. This could be running, walking, yoga, the gym or any other forms that work for the individual.
One of the most important things for dealing with stress and anxiety surrounding trying to conceive that I’ve noticed for my patients in clinic, is having a support network. For a lot of patients they don’t want to tell people they’re trying or don’t want to burden their partner or family with what they’re going through & feeling. However, this can make them feel quite isolated & compound the stress & anxiety because they’re holding it all in, not getting it off their chest. As much as anything else, its important to talk about it, to dissipate the intensity and make people feel like they’re not the only ones going through it.