According to my research, 7.4 million women have used infertility treatments between 2006 and 2010. That’s a lot of women who are seeking help of one form or another to get pregnant. It’s definitely something on our minds.
There are a lot of reasons why this might be happening. I don’t have time to go into all of them here, but the list includes things like: waiting longer to attempt pregnancy, endocrine disruptors in our environment, endocrine disruptors in our food, high levels of chronic stress, synthetic hormones, lack of adequate information on our cycles and disconnection from the natural lunar rhythms that our bodies respond to.
Wow. That’s a lot to take in. And that list certainly isn’t decreasing anyone’s stress level. One mama I spoke with yesterday said “I spent hours online yesterday when I got my test results back. I can’t think why this would happen to me. I feel dirty or broken in some way. I’m overwhelmed! There’s chemicals in my skin care, poison in our food. And am I also supposed to leave my job that I enjoy because it’s a high stress job??”
Oh I feel for you, mama! It is overwhelming and beginning is usually the hardest part isn’t it? Let’s start here, with some big questions about stress and fertility.
1. Do I need to leave my high stress job and meditate in an ashram for a year?
Short answer is, no. Long answer is – there are a lot of other follow up questions you should ask yourself:
- Do you love your work?
- Why are you at a high stress job?
- Define “high stress”.
- Is there another line of work that you would prefer to do and you’re not for some reason?
- Do you use your work as an excuse to avoid self-care?
“Stress” is a relative term. Each woman experiences stress differently and tolerates or even enjoys different levels of stress. Many stay-at-home mamas would call their work “high stress” and yet they don’t have the option (nor do they want to) quit! Being on-call as a doula presents a certain amount of stress into my life. For me, I choose to attend only a few births a year and focus on my coaching and yoga programs. Other doulas enjoy being at births all the time, and for them, the trade of “higher stress” brings higher reward.
On the other hand, I worked with a pregnant mama who quit her job because she felt the negativity there was interfering with conception. Turns out she was right- she conceived a short time after leaving.
This question can only be answered by you. LIsten to your intuition, pray about it, seek out the counsel of other wise women. And explore options that might not be as drastic or black and white as work there or don’t work there.
2. If I keep my “high stress” job, will yoga even help?
Yes! If your active or stressful job creates lots of yang energy in your life (masculine, busy, active), your yoga practice can and should introduce the complementary yin energy (slow, introspective, soft, receiving). There isn’t a magic potion for balance (i.e. 3 yoga classes negates 3 crazy work days) the yin/yang symbol represents the constant flow of the two energies where sometimes one is dominant for a reason, and other times the other takes over.
Fertility is achieved most often with a healthy dose of yin/yang energy – masculine and feminine.
3. How can stress actually interfere with fertility?
This one is a bit more complicated in that there are many factors involved. The general idea is that high levels of cortisol and adrenaline (from stress) disrupt your adrenal function, which in turn disrupts the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Ovarian (HPO) system. When your body believes it is under attack for long periods of time, the rest of the endocrine system is interrupted.
We often respond to stress by ignoring our normal signals to eat properly. Lack of sleep and high stress has been shown to increase feelings of sugar cravings. (This is why we joke about eating too much chocolate when we’re stressed out.) When we eat the sugar we get a little buzz that soothes it temporarily but sets us up for a nasty cycle of cravings. When insulin levels are too high in the body they mimic ovarian hormones and cause the ovaries to be confused and stop producing estrogen. This can also decrease your chances of fertility, especially if you’re overweight or under weight.
And then there’s the inflammation. A great deal of infertility is due to blocked fallopian tubes, fibroids and endometriosis. All of these are related to inflammation in the body. And all are aggravated by stress. This is why research has shown that a yoga practice, and decrease in inflammatory foods helps to decrease pain and symptoms as well as heal some of these conditions.
In Western philosophy the factors above allow stress to breakdown your healthy endocrine system. In Eastern philosophy stress interrupts the proper flow of prana or life energy throughout your body, and emotional factors play a huge role. For example, we carry feelings of disappointment in our hips, and often feelings of anxiety in our heart chakra. Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda (the yoga health science) both believe that there is an energy channel between the heart and the womb. If you have experienced a great deal of disappointment and anxiety (who hasn’t?!) and have not adequately dealt with it or found healing there, this channel will be blocked and conception will be very difficult.
4. The Biggest Question : Where to start managing stress for fertility?
Breath. Breath and more breath. Pranayama or breathing exercises provide a myriad of different things for you.
- Increase oxygen flow.
- Decrease cortisol levels and adrenalin levels.
- Lower blood pressure.
- Bring body awareness.
- Minimize pain.
- Decrease inflammation in the body.
The best part about breathing? It’s free. It can take as little as 2-3 minutes a day. Wanna get started? Download your complementary Abundant Mama Guided Fertility Meditation here!