What is stress?
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) defines stress as "any event that a person perceives as threatening or harmful." This could range from changes in lifestyle (moving, divorce, or loss of job), to personal tragedies (death in the family, illness, or injury), to less cataclysmic but still upsetting situations, such as an ongoing conflict at work.
When you feel stressed, your body responds by preparing to protect itself against the perceived threat. The activity level of the major organs increases, and hormones are secreted through the adrenal gland and nervous system. Acute stress is characterized by increased heart and respiration rates, rising blood pressure, sweaty palms, and clammy skin. Chronic stress can affect sleep patterns and eventually lead to depression.
Can stress cause infertility?
In rare cases, extreme stress can interfere with normal ovulation in women and may reduce sperm production in men. However, while it's possible for stress to cause infertility, it's far more common for infertility to cause stress. According to the ASRM, "infertility can be a major crisis because the important life goal of parenthood is threatened." For couples who aren't immediately successful in their efforts to conceive, stress-reduction techniques can help keep this anxiety in check.
How can I reduce my stress?
The ASRM recommends the following stress-reduction techniques for couples who are trying to conceive:
- Keep the lines of communication open with your partner.
- Get emotional support if trying to become pregnant gets you down. Counseling, support groups, and books can help by reassuring you that you're not alone and by helping you choose between available options.
- Learn yoga or meditation techniques.
- Avoid excessive intake of caffeine and other stimulants.
- Exercise regularly to relieve physical and emotional tension.