Five ways to reduce stress and promote fertility
Yoga and nutrition expert Suzanne Cork discusses the importance of reducing stress whilst trying to conceive
One in four couples suffer from some degree of infertility. So, if it is taking longer to conceive than you thought it would take, you are not alone. If you are struggling to conceive it is rarely caused by one single factor. When I work with clients we start by looking at their life from a 360 degree holistic viewpoint to bring psychological, nutritional, and physical factors into balance to optimise fertility by creating a plan with simple, repeatable steps, to address those factors. This is part one of a three part series looking at these factors.
Psychological stress impacting fertility
Many women can feel a huge amount of strain whilst trying to fall pregnant. I have found that it is this lack of control that causes the most stress during this time along with self-critical and judgemental thoughts of “what is wrong with me?”. Couples can end up spending a lot of time and money trying to figure out what is “wrong” physically without realising that their high stress levels are one of the biggest factors hindering their fertility. A recent study found that women with higher levels of amylases (a stress hormone) had a significantly reduced chance of conceiving and men with stress issues tend to have low sperm production.
Why is this? Well, what goes on in your mind doesn’t just stay in your head. Stress sends waves throughout your entire body and impacts its functioning. We can look at this from an evolutionary point of view, whereby if a cavewoman was struggling for her survival (i.e. stressed!), her body would decrease blood flow to pelvic organs so that blood can be moved to other areas critical for fighting or fleeing. The causes of stress might have changed today but the impact on the body has not. Although we are (luckily!) no longer fighting off sabre toothed tigers, it goes without saying that stress is an epidemic of our modern world.
Many clients I work with in this area are successful high achievers, striving for excellence and used to working hard and being rewarded for it. It is then only natural that they apply this to getting pregnant, on the assumption that if they only try harder they will succeed. Unfortunately that model does not work with fertility and one of the first things we work on is reducing their stress levels using specific yoga poses, breathing and mindfulness exercises. This helps reduce the activity of the cortisol-stimulating sympathetic nervous system (impacting the release of important sex hormones) and increase the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, which works to calm the chaos and controls internal functions including the reproductive organs. Yoga also works on a physical level by increasing blood flow to your pelvis, stimulating hormone-producing endocrine systems, and releasing muscle tension.
Top Tips to Reduce Stress and Promote Fertility
- If possible, pinpoint the external source of your stress (work, a relationship, a needy friend?). If you are unable to reduce your exposure to external stress, work on ways to reduce its impact on you internally.
- Make sure you are getting enough sleep (7-8 hours) – essential for hormone regulation.
- Upon waking spend 5 minutes trying this simple mindful breathing exercise: Find a comfortable place to either sit or lie down. Place both hands on your lower abdomen. As you inhale visualise you are breathing in the cooling colour blue and imagine it moving through your body calming your system. As you exhale visualise you are breathing out the colour red and releasing all the tension from your body.
- Develop a positive mindset where you focus on being healthy and happy in all areas of your life, not just being pregnant.
- Have fun! Go for a massage, spend time with your friends, go on a run, have a romantic dinner with your partner – find whatever works to decrease your stress levels and stick to it!