How Anxiety and Stress Can Affect Your Fertility
Fight the effects of stress by signing up for things that relax you, like massages or yoga.
Anxiety really can impact your fertility. Here, an expert explains the connection—and how to help alleviate the effects.
Doctors have long suspected the link between anxiety and ovulation, and now science has proved it. In a new study, women with high levels of the enzyme alpha-amylase, a marker of stress, took 29 percent longer to get pregnant.
“Your body knows that periods of stress are not ideal times to be carrying and nourishing a growing baby,” says Anate Aelion Brauer, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist and an assistant professor of obstetrics-gynecology at the New York University School of Medicine. (Related: Should You Get Your Fertility Tested Before Wanting to Have Kids?)
Fortunately, there are science-backed methods to help manage the effects of stress. Dr. Aelion Brauer shares three:
Relax Your Mind
“Stress hormones like cortisol can disrupt communication between the brain and the ovaries, leading to irregular ovulation and difficulty conceiving,” Dr. Aelion Brauer says.
But, of course, trying to conceive can incite a lot of anxiety. Her advice? Exercise moderately, like brisk walking, for one to five hours a week; take up a meditative practice like yoga; and if you want, try talk therapy to deal with your feelings. (Try this Yoga Meditation for a Clear Mind)
Be Aware of Bodily Stress
“Physical stressors like overdoing exercise or not eating enough can affect fertility as well,” Dr. Aelion Brauer says. When body fat is too low, the brain won’t produce hormones responsible for egg growth, estrogen production, and ovulation.
Everyone has a different threshold. But if your cycle becomes irregular— especially if it coincides with you spending more time in the gym or changing your diet—it’s a red flag, Dr. Aelion Brauer says. See a doctor, and rest and refuel until your period becomes normal again. (Related: The Ultimate List of High-Protein Foods You Should Eat Every Week)
Many women with fertility issues are trying acupuncture. “About 70 percent of my patients are also seeing an acupuncturist,” Dr. Aelion Brauer says. Research hasn’t clearly shown a direct effect on pregnancy outcomes, but studies have found that acupuncture can significantly reduce stress by calming the nervous system. (Interestingly enough, physical therapy may also increase fertility and help you get pregnant.)
“My view is, if it makes you relax and feel more in control of your body and fertility, then it’s worth trying,” Dr. Aelion Brauer says.