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The Real Reason Stress Is Terrible For Fertility — And What To Do About It

Image Credit: Firesam via Flickr

Image Credit: Firesam via Flickr

You've heard it a million times: stress is bad for your fertility. But as many times as you've heard it, you've probably never gotten a great answer as to why.

What I want to do is help you understand why you should be concerned with the amount of stress in your life and how it directly affects the underlying issues that contribute to your overall fertility.

So why does stress have such a negative effect on our fertility?

When we experience stress, our bodies produce adrenaline and cortisol—two hormones that regulate the “fight or flight” response in our bodies. High levels of these are great if we need to escape from a burning building or any other dangerous situation. Unfortunately, our modern bodies haven’t evolved to know that we’re only stressed because our boss is a jerk, not because we’re getting chased by a pack of hungry wolves. Our lives have become so busy and complicated many men and women are in a hyper-cortisol state every single day.

Here’s where fertility comes into play: The body uses progesterone to make cortisol, stealing it away from the reproductive system. The higher the cortisol, the more difficult it is for your body to produce progesterone.

Why do we care so much about progesterone?

To put it simply, progesterone is absolutely essential for both getting and staying pregnant. You can see its importance in the word itself — pro gestation.

We need progesterone to:

  • Stabilize and vascularize the uterine lining to support implantation.
  • Allow for a fertilized embryo to implant in the lining and maintain pregnancy

  • Modulate your immune system. (Keep in mind—about one-third of all infertility diagnoses have something to do with immunological issues.)

  • Reduce inflammation, a main contributor to endometriosis.

  • Help regulate insulin release and pancreatic function. (This function can impact the onset of gestational diabetes.)

If all your progesterone is recruited for cortisol production, you will not have enough  to get or stay pregnant.

Progesterone is not only essential for female fertility, it’s important for men as well.

Sperm may use progesterone as a sort of “homing signal” to swim toward a newly released egg. Your progesterone may also affect your partner’s sperm’s motility—its ability to swim efficiently. Long-term stress can also damage sperm count in your partner and affect the hormones he needs to be fertile.

Stress may be unavoidable in our modern lives. But how we relate with our stress strongly impacts the effect on our bodies. You can take stress into your own hands and have a positive impact on your fertility.

Want to learn how to think of stress in a different, healthier way? I highly recommend taking 15 minutes to watch this great TED Talk by health psychologist Kelly McGonigal. You’re sure to breathe a sigh of relief afterward.

Permanently ditching stress in your life takes a plan, and practice. Conceivable helps our users take the stress out of trying to conceive with a 12 week Stress-less Fertility course that promotes mindfulness, and helps you leave stress, anxiety, and worrying behind.