Stress and Infertility
Women going through the fertility process have reported elevated levels of anxiety and depression. It has often been debated whether there is a relationship between stress and pregnancy outcomes. Although this discussion is controversial, it is safe to say that infertility and going through fertility treatment does cause stress.
Various studies have concluded that infertility can cause increased incidence of anxiety, depression and stress (Rooney and Domar, 2018). Determining whether stress results in decreased pregnancy outcomes is another discussion entirely and is often a debated subject. Despite this, it is still crucially important to consider the impact of stress and provide clients with the appropriate resources to cope during their fertility journey.
Lets first discuss stress and how it impacts your body. Stress is a very normal response in the body and is needed to maintain a level of homeostasis (balance/stability). Hans Selye in 1946 defined what is known as the general adaptation syndrome (GAS) or what we typically refer to as the “fight or flight” response (Gould, 2006). This response is your body’s way of dealing with some form of stressor. Stressors can be internal or external and can include but not limited to exposure to trauma, anxiety, infection or pain. An example of a stressor would be the body’s response to temperature changes. When your body becomes too hot, there are various mechanisms that take place to reduce your body temperature, the most familiar of which is sweating. The reason you sweat is to help decrease your body temperature. Under extreme stress, this response by your body is extremely important for a short amount of time. Problems only begin to arise when the stress is severe or prolonged, causing distress and possibly negative outcomes in the body.
In general, the stress response as originally defined by Selye, has three stages: alarm stage, resistance stage and stage of exhaustion (Gould, 2006). During the alarm stage the body begins to activate the release of various hormones, including cortisol, norepinephrine and epinephrine. The goal of this is to optimize certain body systems so that they work more effectively. The resistance stage is when the body tries to resist or counteract the changes the body made during the alarm stage. After which, if the stressor remains the stage of exhaustion occurs when the body is unable to perform at such a high level. Although this process is complex it can result in the following outcomes:
· Increased blood pressure
· Increased oxygen levels
· Increased blood glucose levels
· Gastric/stomach secretions
· Inflammatory response
· Decreased immune response
With prolonged exposure to a stressor, and thus the body continually being in a state of distress, negative outcomes can occur. This could include the develop of infections, stomach ulcers, kidney failure, heart problems and cancer.
What does this all mean for someone going through fertility treatment? In The relationship between stress and infertility (Rooney and Domar, 2018) reviewed various studies and noted that some do show that women who experience high levels of distress experience lower pregnancy outcomes, however some studies contradict these findings. Regardless on the cause and effect relationship between stress and infertility, as you can see it is still very important to recognize the impact of stress on your body and develop effective coping mechanisms.
So how should you use this information? We simply suggest participating in activities that help support you during your fertility journey and alleviate stress levels. Some examples could include the following:
· Developing a healthy lifestyle (diet and exercise)
· Seeking counselling services
· Regulate sleep (if needed develop a sleep routine to help you fall asleep)
· Participate in support groups
We hope this post was helpful, if you have any additional questions please comment below and we will try our best to answer.
Goud, B. (2006). Pathophysiology for the Health Professions. The influence of stress. 218-224.
Rooney, K. L. and Domar, A. D. (2018). The relationship between stress and infertility. Dialogues in
Clinical Neuroscience, 41-47.