Signs That Stress Is Impacting Your Fertility | with Natalie Pickering

November 21, 2022 4 min read

How does stress affect your fertilityHave you ever noticed your cycle and flow can change when you've had a particularly stressful month? 

Often, I see women who's menstrual cycles can suddenly become very long, or very short, who's PMS symptoms suddenly worsen or menstrual flow becomes much heavier or or lighter.

As much as we don't want to use 'stress' as the scapegoat for every ailment, when you see a rapid change to your cycle - stress is often the culprit.

One of the biggest issues is that so many women can't recognise when their stress levels are elevated. It's difficult to identify when stress has accumulated to a point where it causes physical and emotional symptoms.

Signs Stress Levels & Cortisol Are High:

  • Feeling tired but wired
  • Sleeplessness and insomnia
  • Midsection weight gain
  • Persistent anxiety and racing thoughts
  • Frequent irritability
  • Poor stress tolerance
  • Blood sugar imbalances
  • Mood swings
  • Sub-fertility

Signs Stress Levels Have Been Too High For Too Long:

  • Persistent unexplained fatigue
  • Waking unrefreshed after a good night's sleep
  • Brain fog
  • Impaired memory
  • Muscle aches and joint pains
  • Tiring easily after minor exertion
  • Decreased capacity to handle stress
  • Mild depression

Under stress, our adrenal cortex is stimulated to produce cortisol. While cortisol is often thought of simply as the “stress hormone,” it actually plays some other important roles – it helps us maintain our blood glucose, acts as an anti-inflammatory, and influences our blood pressure.

Cortisol production is fundamental for health and our ability to function under stress.

The problem is, we're not well designed for this 21st century lifestyle of busyness, rushing, deadlines, too little down time, too many toxins, financial stress, too little exercise, too little sleep. All of these things signal for cortisol production too often.

Eventually it catches up with us, and causes something called HPA dysfunction.

HPA dysfunction is where after periods of chronic and repeated stress, our system begins to respond poorly with prolonged cortisol peaks, and eventually it “burns out”, failing to respond to any signals to release cortisol.

How Does Stress And HPA Dysfunction Upset Your Cycle?

When we look at stress and ovulation, chronic elevations in cortisol can inhibit GnRH production from the hypothalamus, which affects particularly LH secretion in the pituitary. So, what does this actually do? 

  • It can delay or stop ovulation in the ovary (remember that LH is the signal from your brain telling your body to ovulate).
  • In the ovary itself, stress-induced levels of cortisol have been shown to impair egg cell functioning.
  • In IVF studies, fluid from follicles containing eggs that did not fertilise had levels of cortisol significantly higher than the levels in fluid from follicles containing successfully fertilised egg cells.

Knowing this shines a whole new light on the fundamental importance of stress management, doesn't it.....So, how can you manage stress? 

Firstly, you're going to need to be patient with yourself as you begin to create new habits and allow the time for your brain and adrenals to reset and re-balance. It took a long time to get to this point, and its not going to be resolved in a week or two

Four Steps To Reduce The Impact Of Stress On Your Fertility. 

1. Prioritise sleep and rest
You would have heard this before, but the foundations of good sleep are so important in the way you perceive and respond to stress. Remember a time where you might have overreacted to something small and probably insignificant? Ensuring eight hours of sleep most nights will improve your stress response.

2. Choose food carefully
Reduce refined carbohydrates, the sweet sugary food and caffeine. What your body needs most now is regularly spaced meals with 4-5 veggies, a lean protein and some healthy fat. Meals like these provide the nutrients your adrenals need most - Magnesium, Zinc, vitamin C, and B complex vitamins.

3. Build a stress-busting, fertility boosting routine
Choose from a few of the proven stress reduction techniques my clients use to reduce cortisol and improve stress adaptation, and commit to practicing them daily.

The 4-7-8 breath technique

  • Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds
  • Hold for 7 seconds
  • Then exhale out of your mouth for 8 seconds making a whoosh sound
  • Repeat 3 times

Free guided meditation or visualisation apps: 

  • Smiling Minds
  • Headspace
  • Insight Timer

4. Using botanical adaptogens to reset and thrive

The first three steps outlined provide a foundation for improving adrenal health and cortisol production. In addition to this, carefully chosen adaptogenic herbs can be the cherry on top of your adrenal recovery. You'll enjoy faster results with herbs like Withania, Holy Basil, Rhodiola, Schisandra, Rehmannia and Siberian Ginseng.

Stress can make such a big impact on your fertility journey, which is such a kicker because trying to conceive and not getting your positive has got to be one of the most stressful, overwhelming and exhausting times in our lives.


 

If you need some support, book a consult with Natalie here, to take more of a deep dive into your fertility and how it may be impacted by the stress you're experiencing.
Love Natalie
As one of Australia's most highly regarded natural fertility specialists, Natalie has been nurturing, guiding and supporting women to overcome their health challenges for well over two decades.

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