Managing stress along the journey to grow your family

Key takeaways:

  • The research is conflicting and a bit unclear when looking into the direct relationship between stress and fertility 
  • Managing stress is still important because stress can indirectly affect one’s ability to conceive
  • There are several techniques that can be used to reduce your overall stress, and Frame is here to help you dive into those options as needed 

In the past couple of decades, there has been a lot of interest in the relationship between stress and health conditions, especially considering that approximately 20% of men and women report psychological stress on a daily basis. We know that when we have a lot of stress, we can experience some health-related problems such as headaches and an upset stomach. But what about stress and fertility?

When it comes to fertility and getting pregnant, there is a common belief that stress and anxiety negatively impacts someone’s ability to become pregnant. Many of us have heard this at some point or another, “just relax and you’ll get pregnant,” or “stop thinking about it so much and when you least expect it, it will happen”. Then there are all those stories you hear about the couple who tried to conceive for YEARS, exhausting all science had to offer and when they finally made the decision to move on and pursue adoption, bam! They become pregnant. Unfortunately, the numbers and the evidence are unclear about if there is a connection. For every story of a pregnancy happening once adoption plans are initiated, there are countless more stories of couples that exhaust all the treatments, and then choose to live childfree and a pregnancy never happens.

What does the research say?

Beyond these anecdotal stories, it’s important to know that scientists have conducted research to see if indeed stress plays a part in someone’s ability to get pregnant. As the research evolves, it’s important to mention that it is also conflicting.

You may be thinking that surely there must be a connection between stress and fertility, considering it is well documented that the process of infertility and associated treatment is very stressful. So as people journey through infertility and stress increases, perhaps their chances of conceiving continue to decline? This is based on the idea that stress inhibits the reproductive system when stress hormones are released in the body. 

While some studies on this topic show a relationship between psychological stress and infertility, others do not. This is because the existing research on this topic is flawed, meaning that the studies are not designed well enough to prove a relationship between psychological stress and infertility. Since we know those going through infertility treatments are really stressful, researchers have also wondered if taking purposeful steps to REDUCE that stress while trying to conceive increased chances of pregnancy. These types of questions can be studied through a well designed study called a randomized control trial (RCT). There have been studies that have taken one group of patients undergoing fertility treatment and offered some type of stress reducing intervention, such as acupuncture or mindfulness. This group’s pregnancy outcomes are then compared to those going through the same type of treatment, but without acupuncture or mindfulness. Although over 40 RCTs have been conducted on this topic, they have largely found no relationship between relaxation techniques and pregnancy chances in couples undergoing assisted reproductive technology (ART).

Should you still care about your stress?

Yes of course! Stress affects quality of life, and can impact your relationship with your partner and other loved ones. It can also have an indirect impact on your ability to become pregnant. Perhaps your stress is so high that you reduce the frequency of intercourse, or it results in sexual dysfunction for men. Or you may cope with stress by engaging in unhealthy habits such as smoking that can in fact decrease your chances of conceiving. Also, the psychological burden that comes with fertility treatment is a top reason couples discontinue fertility treatment. Those experiencing high levels of stress often need increased emotional support to cope with this stress, and at Frame we will advocate for mental health care and enhanced emotional wellness for anyone trying to conceive but facing challenges. Fertility is a journey for many people, and having the support needed is so very important to help deal with all the ups and down, regardless of where the journey ends.

What are some stress reduction strategies for me? 

Thankfully, there are many options out there for reducing your overall stress levels. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of making the time for this in the midst of a busy life. Some options include walking or physical movement, yoga or qigong, and/or spending time outdoors. Other ways to approach stress reduction and enhance mental wellness are through meditation, mantras, prayer, practicing gratitude, or journaling. Certain stress-reduction techniques work for some, and not for others, so it’s okay to experiment to see if there is one technique that works best for you! The key is carving out the time to focus on this. And know that Frame is here to help support you as you navigate various ways in which to prioritize self-care and stress reduction. 

How can Frame help me manage stress throughout my journey to grow my family? 

Well first off, our whole mission is to help you better understand what to care about and prioritize versus what not to stress about. By working with us, our members commonly report that one of the key benefits is that we take the stress and anxiety away by providing you with an evidence-based assessment, a personalized plan and 1:1 guidance and support. And part of our Frame assessment includes diving into your mental wellness and stress levels, so that together we can navigate ways in which to address these topics. Our Frame Coaches can provide a variety of resources, including options to find care and therapists, as well as apps for meditation and mindfulness. We are also here to help hold you accountable around lifestyle shifts that can reduce overall stress. Most importantly, working with a Frame Coach means having your own personal advocate and companion, which goes a long way in feeling supported and empowered no matter where you are on the path to grow your family. The topic of stress is very unique to each individual, so know that we are here to support you and your specific goals and needs so that you can experience a more confident family building journey!

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