Stress and InfertilityWomen's Health
Infertility can vastly impact couples, affecting relationships with family and friends, creating financial difficulty, and influencing the relationship between partners and the couple’s sexual relationship. Plus, infertility can be hard to determine, resulting in a conglomerate of stressful elements for those experiencing it.
The relationship between infertility and stress is complex. On the one hand, infertile couples are susceptible to more stress and have a greater chance of developing psychological disorders than normal, healthy couples. On the other hand, high levels of psychological distress have been shown to increase infertility. Therefore, psychotherapy is the primary treatment recommended for couples who suffer from infertility, advised before patients even start any medical fertility treatment.
Studies have shown that women with infertility face the same levels of anxiety and depression as those with other severe health problems. But unfortunately, couples struggling with infertility usually don’t receive the same level of compassion as individuals with cancer, heart disease, or HIV. Instead, they get blamed for their condition more often than not, which adds even more stress to an already grueling situation.
How Does Stress Interfere With Fertility?
Although there’s no indication of infertility being caused by stress alone, it does affect a woman’s ability to get pregnant. In fact, women struggling with depression are twice as likely to experience infertility, and women with anxiety can take longer to get pregnant. Moreover, even when undergoing IVF or assisted reproduction, women suffering from stress have lower pregnancy rates. Men’s infertility has also been linked to stress levels, with decrease sperm count and quality.
A few causes of stress for women are fears, especially fears related to pregnancy, delivery, or maternity. The fear of changing body shape during pregnancy, losing one’s life or the child during delivery, or fear of failing as a mother can impact a woman’s mental health and fertility. In contrast, the stress in men can be linked to impotence with erection and ejaculation, which in turn affects fertility.
How To Manage Stress?
There are many strategies to help you manage infertility-related stress effectively and improve your chances of getting pregnant.
Educate yourself about your medical condition, the expected responses to infertility, and treatment options. Talk to other people going through infertility and support groups to understand infertility better and discover alternative pictures of what your future may look like.
Speak with your partner about your feelings and needs, and allow your partner to express, feel and cope differently. Discuss your differences healthily and avoid conflict. Extend the same openness of communication to your family and friends and avoid isolating yourself. Note that you can choose how in-depth about the situation you go, how many details you share, and how to let others show up for you.
When under psychological stress, your body enters a fight-or-flight response, emulating a dangerous situation. This is where relaxation techniques come into play: progressive muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, meditation, and imagery can help you shift to a relaxation response state. By practicing relaxation techniques, you might be able to manage infertility-related stress.
Care For Your Health
Upon being diagnosed with infertility, it’s normal if you need to take a break from your routine, indulge in your favorite snacks, and other coping mechanisms you may have to deal with such a piece of big news. However, it’s essential that you get back to a healthy lifestyle as soon as possible – that means eating healthy, exercising regularly, having good sleep hygiene, and recreational moments. It’s also important that you get regular checkups to keep track of your health.
Sexual stress is common among couples with infertility, caused by the shift in the perception of sex from a fun and intimate activity to an obligation or a duty. To manage sexual stress, couples can take a break from trying to conceive and relearn the pleasure and sensual contact of sharing intimate moments with their partner.
Managing stress has been credited to impact the rate of infertility positively. In addition, studies have shown higher pregnancy rates in women with infertility when taking a joint approach to mind and body health. Thus, combining relaxation techniques, stress management, coping skills training, and group support can help you to better deal with anxiety, depression and stress, thus improving your chances of pregnancy.
However, not only women’s fertility is affected by stress. Studies have found that psychological stress can lower sperm count, sperm movement, and the percentage of normal-shaped sperm. In addition, testosterone levels were also reduced when men experienced psychological stress. Therefore, men should also consider a mindful approach to successful stress management.
An infertility diagnosis can be overwhelming for couples, leading to significant psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Hence, couples should get proper counseling and support as they navigate infertility and undergo treatment. As seen throughout this article, reduced levels of psychological stress can support pregnancy chances and improve overall health, mentally and physically. So, be sure to seek support and manage your stress levels healthily.