It is a tip well known: stop stressing and you are more likely to conceive. But how helpful is this wisdom? – I mean, really. Doesn’t the pressure to stop stressing just stress us more even?
Let’s make this tip truly helpful. Let’s get to understand some of the physiology behind it, and how to possibly get out of that stress loop when in the throws of trying to conceive!
Anyone TTC has probably already been thrown heaps of folklore about stress reducing the chances to conceive. In addition, researchers have indeed demonstrated this fact, via studies.
A recent study that is public at the following nih.gov site, shows a relatively new discovery of a biochemical correlation that relates stress to delayed conception.
(https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-study-indicates-stress-may-delay-women-getting-pregnant). Here is a quote regarding the essence of their findings:
“The researchers showed that women who had higher levels of a substance called alpha-amylase were less likely to get pregnant than were women with lower levels of the substance. Alpha-amylase is secreted into saliva by the parotid gland, the largest of the salivary glands. Although alpha-amylase digests starch, in recent years many researchers have used it as a barometer of the body’s response to physical or psychological stress. The substance is secreted when the nervous system produces catecholamines, compounds that initiate a type of stress response.”
A more commonly researched perspective relates to Cortisol, and it’s accompanying hormonal symphony as it effects reproductive hormone balance. Here is a quote regarding the essence of one study (published here: http://natural-fertility-info.com/stress-and-your-fertility.html)
“Recent research tells us that stress boosts levels of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, catecholamines and cortisol, which can inhibit the release of the body’s main hormone, GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone), which is responsible for the release of sex hormones. Subsequently this may suppress ovulation in women, reduce sperm count in men and lower libido in both women and men.
A general example of the importance of GnRH in fertility is this: Manufactured by the hypothalamus, GnRH is responsible for signaling the release of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) from the pituitary gland, which then stimulates the gonads (ovaries in women, testes in men) to release sex hormones (estrogens and androgens). The levels of sex hormones rise and once a certain level is achieved, become part of a negative feedback loop (negative feedback inhibition) which signals the suppression of LH.
Any disruption to GnRH may cause insufficient release of hormones from the pituitary gland which can cause their target organs to no longer work as they once did and in extreme cases, atrophy over time and no longer function.”
No matter how you slice it, or get into deeper specifics, here are the basics:
Our hormonal system is intricate and consists of highly inter-dependent hormonal loops. Therefore, higher or lower levels of bio-chemicals due to stress can surely directly, and possibly negatively, effect the reproductive hormone balance.
This does not mean that stress ruins everything. But when we are TTC, we are intent on optimizing. We want to optimize everything about our fertile health and make our chances to conceive the very best. Clearly, stress is not optimal for trying to conceive.
Yet, many of us just do live in streams of stress, if we are honest. And, we typically also believe most of that stress it is unavoidable. We live in a fast-paced current of over-full life responsibilities that feels like it takes us on its way. Yes, we have to admit it. But do we have to succumb to it?
Can trying to conceive be the opportunity to finally choose less stress?
I have to commiserate with anyone both trying to conceive and trying to de-stress. Of course, this is a challenging puzzle. We are waiting every month for two weeks to see two pink lines! It can consume us. I have been there, more times than I wish to count or recall.
But, let’s be real. Maybe we have more choice in the matter. Maybe we can put ourselves more at “the center”, than on “the stress edge”. Simply put, how can we find more centering, and more calm?
Here are some tips to stop (or reduce, at least) stressing while trying to get pregnant.
- GET IN “THE KNOW”
Here’s a biggie that helped me. I focused my mind on learning all I could apropos “fertility physiology.” Obsessing and worrying uses a lot of mind energy. It takes time too. You can apply that energy and time to learning about fertility physiology and checking how fertility levels are working in your body.
Some specifics would be to learn about: accurate cycle tracking, how to confirm ovulation, identifying your fertile window and peak day, differentiating types of cervical fluid, and learning some pointers for “conception sex”.
For me, not only was the above type of learning much better use of my time and energy, the pure fact of being “in the know” was significantly relaxing. This big mysterious thing that ultimately I had no control over (and still, don’t of course) at least was more comprehensible. My goals and the ultimate mystery of pregnancy, were both more “contact-able”, I could say. I learned what I could -if not control – still have a great effect on.
So, depth of knowledge really helped me relax (some 🙂
Instead of indulging the worry-based cortisol-firing impulse to find commiseration-buddies or hyper symptom spotting in the two-week wait, for example, I suggest trying out learning more about your fertility physiology. This is a helpful process of getting closer to – and more informed about – your self!
- CREATE OUTLETS FOR INTENSE ENERGY
For some of us, on outlet for intense energy (as stress is, essentially) needs to be “action” oriented. Action would be a way to apply the energy.
For others of us, we need de-stimulation and discipline. Disciplining ourselves for downtime would be a way to diffuse the energy.
Some ideas (in both categories) are:
- Use recorded mindfulness guidance, or music, and put that 20-30 minute block into your schedule. Commit to it, like brushing your teeth is “required”. Search online and via itunes (and such) to find the perfect fit for you. Consider it as “fun” as finding that perfect new dress or new shoes. Know that you will find something that really resonates with you. Find it, and use it daily.
- Make a “funky music” playlist. In late evening, turn off the lights in one room that has some space to groove. And — get down! Close your eyes, and dance like no body’s watching (and, maybe make sure they aren’t;-).
- Commit to a 2-3x per week yoga class you adore.
- Find a special place to stomp and scream and shake limbs, outdoors or in. Do it again.
- Drive up or climb up a mountain and hike hard.
- Drive up or climb up a mountain, lay on your back and drop your weight into the earth (even nap?)
Get the idea…? Either “outlets” or “diffusion” of that intense energy.
- GET CONSULTS
Get expert consults, like I offer! 😉 WHY? In my experience, having a truly knowledgeable pal and confidant, who can both listen to feelings and offer fact-based guidance, is invaluable to reduce stress when trying to conceive.
Venting randomly can help relieve stress. But, I found that having an expert (or two) to walk with me step by step helped me relax more for each step of the way, how ever challenging or disappointing that phase was.
- GO CRAZY (kinda sorta)
Do something new and fun! (That’s really what I mean) Call it “crazy” or call it “carefree”, but changing up the scenery, changing plans, doing something out of your ordinary. Think: bohemian-style young traveler type choices. Just from time to time. Radically different activities, fun too, can be very relieving of stress.
- MAKE BEDTIME RITUALS (like you will love to do with your “little”, one day:-)
Bedtime is a great time to truly relax. Obviously, it can also help you drift off to sleep easier and then sleep better too.
Try composing a bedtime ritual. Set a time, say 10pm, where all technology goes off. Like, powered off! You could even take all lights off too, and use only candles for the rest of your wake time (an expert told me that more real dark in our eyes during the actual dark hours of the day, does help balance hormones, btw).
You might spend time in a few restorative yoga poses, like just three of them that you really like, for 5 -7 minutes each. You might choose some poetry to read or wisdom prose of ancient saints. Do you sing? Sing softly, something that just warms your heart and is easy. You might even be bold enough to lay flat on your back, and simply watch your breath cycle. (And, think of it as a miracle).
As noted above, this ritual done regularly could not only ease stress, but also provide a foreshadowing to your days-to-come when you experience, like most mamas, how well babies and toddlers respond to bedtime rituals. You are practicing for the “real thing”, you can think. Why not add in that sweet piece?
- CHECK WHAT CAN YOU LET GO OF (for now)
Are there any duties that typically add to your over-full plate or anxiousness (or both) that you can simply let go of – for now?
You can choose a time period, let’s say 3-6 months or so, where you just “bow out” from some obligation and leave it be. Might be something personal, like a acquaintanceship that you do care for, but is also burdensome in some way. Maybe something like hiring a dog-walker or house cleaner to reduce your to-do list? Or, your “give away” could be stepping down from a board-of-directors position that is dear, but could go on hold for a little while.
Consider what you are obligated to that you can kindly adjust from being on your plate. And, consider a timeframe for that resignation, so that your own mind, as well as other folks who might be effected, can allow that change easier.
As always, I welcome your comments – share what works? what helps? what you can add?
All the best,