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Here’s the headline that grabbed my attention on Science Daily yesterday: Stress Puts Double Whammy On Reproductive System, Fertility. Researchers at UC Berkeley have discovered that stress screws up our ability to get pregnant. Makes sense: stress is strong stuff and takes the edge off most people’s mojo. But decreased sex drive is only part of the story.
The article says, ". . . stress boosts levels of stress hormones - glucocorticoids such as cortisol - that inhibit the body's main sex hormone, gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH), and subsequently suppresses sperm count, ovulation and sexual activity. New research shows that stress also increases brain levels of a reproductive hormone named gonadotropin-inhibitory hormone, or GnIH. . .. [and] puts the brakes on reproduction by directly inhibiting GnRH."
OK, so much for the medical-ese. What does it mean? Stress hormones trump reproductive hormones by making us less into having sex, reducing sperm production and ovulation. It affects both sides of the bed. Our brains tell our reproductive bits and pieces, "no go on the baby this month. This couple’s too stressed out." Our bodies accommodate by squirting out hormones that shut down production. It’s a brilliant management system where we scan our lives, evaluate our coping mechanisms then decide whether we can add another human to the mix. It all happens behind the scenes where we don’t notice it. The mind-body connection runs the show.
So what do we do if we want to get pregnant? Ditch the stress. Yeah, right, you say. Now’s not the best time to quit the high-pressure job. We can’t evict our toddlers or move to Nepal in order to have hot, crazy sex while producing top-quality sperm and eggs. If only we had more control over the stress on/stress off switch.
Well, we do. If our mind/body connection is astute enough for self-evaluation, our conscience mind is too. Take a look at your life. In one minute, name five things that work really well. In another minute, list five things that don’t. The pesky thing about stress is it isn’t just the bad stuff that fires it up. The good stuff does too when it’s out of balance with everything else. When we’re just too busy to be really present to what’s important and basic in life, we’re stressed.
Many of us don’t even realize it when we’re off-kilter. We’re so used to living at Mach 5 with our hair on fire, we think it’s normal. If you’re having trouble getting pregnant (or fighting disease, depression, anxiety, or oh so many other things), then stress is dominating your life. Sure, there are lots of just plain physical reasons for infertility but even then, most people say infertility itself is freakin’ stressful.
Next step, now that you’ve listed your top "not working" five, take a look at them, one at a time (all at once would be too stressful) and either change them or change the way you perceive them. There’s almost always something you can do to improve and de-stress a situation. Our choices come down to eliminate, accommodate or accept. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Life doesn’t have to be that hard.
Now, take at look at what works. Ask yourself, "How can the joy I find in these things translate to other parts of my life?" Accentuate the positive and the negative becomes less important.
Finally, if you haven’t already started meditation or yoga, start now. Meditation provides direct access to the stress switch. Simple breathing and relaxation are scientifically proven to reduce stress instantly and continue to provide long-term benefits. Find 15 minutes every day to cultivate stillness. Stress is powerful but meditation is more powerful. It’s also free, easy and the best way to get on board with the management system that is your mind-body connection.
Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org and it may be answered in a future blog post.
This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.