Written by my Fall 2015 apprentice, Lynn Doak, this post is discusses the true impact of stress (mental, physical, emotional) on our fertility, along with evidence of the effectiveness of a mind/body approach.
Stress has become an accepted part of our lifestyle. For many it is our norm.
We don’t know any other way of life. We are so used to daily chronic stress that perhaps we don’t even notice we are stressed anymore?
It is the high-stress culture we live in. Always in a rush, always thinking about the next thing we need to do before we have finished what we’re doing now, always looking to the future, or dwelling on the past, never really being present in our lives.
Add to that the constant stimulation our minds are getting every second of the day from our computers, phones and other devices.
We are always SWITCHED ON.
We all know that stress is not good for us, but do you know just how it affects your hormones and reproductive system?
Hormones are chemical messages sent by a gland to signal to parts of the body what they should be doing. One function of the hormones is to signal to the body when its overly stressed. To do this it activates the stress hormone, cortisol which is produced by the adrenal gland.
This stress hormone, then signals to the reproductive system that we are under threat and it is not a safe time for the body to reproduce. In fact we actually have tiny receptors on our follicles which signal to the ovaries that the timing is not right for reproduction!
Our glands and hormones do a delicate and intricate dance each month…
- It begins with the hypothalamus which secretes gonadotropic-releasing hormone (GnRH) which sends a message to the pituitary gland to produce LH and FSH (luteinizing and follicle stimulating hormones).
- LH and FSH then signal the ovaries to produce oestrogen and progesterone.
- When the level of oestrogen and progesterone reaches a certain point, the body signals back to the pituitary to begin to reduce secretion of LH and FSH. This creates a feedback loop which all begins in the hypothalamus.
The problem is that stress acts directly on the hypothalamus by suppressing GnRH and that causes a knock on effect of the entire loop.
Stress-induced anovulation – the mind/body connection
Dr Sarah Berga, Professor of Reproductive Endocrinology has studied “stress induced anovulation”, which is when stress interferes with the release of an egg from the ovary. She conducted a 20 week study where 10 women received Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (a form of therapy that works on negative thought patterns). 8 out of 10 of the women began to ovulate again, proving that the mind does indeed have an effect on the physical body.
In fact, there have been many studies like this done on the Mind-Body approach to fertility problems.
Dr Alice Domar of Harvard University, took 184 women who had been trying to conceive for 1-2 years. One group completed a 10 week Mind-Body program and had a 55% pregnancy success rate compared with the other group who only had a 20% success rate.
In my own small study, out of a group of 12 women who completed my 90 day Holistic Fertility Program (which combines mind-body techniques with fertility massage and reflexology), 8 became pregnant within 2-5 months.
When you compare these statistics with a medical treatment like IUI (Intrauterine Insemination) which has between a 2-8% success rate, it makes you wonder why more women don’t try a Mind-Body approach first?
This could be because many women aren’t even aware of the alternative…
In my wellbeing centre, I often see women who have had up to 8 cycles of IUI or 2-3 rounds of IVF. These women often have no medical reason to be using stimulating drugs. They often have unexplained infertility.
That is why I would like to spread the word about the Mind-Body approach to fertility problems. There are so many options out there you can try before going down the medically assisted route, because often if the problem isn’t a physical one, all the fertility drugs in the world won’t do any good.
The Mind-Body approach includes emotional healing techniques, mindfulness, visualisation, hypnosis, journaling, cognitive therapy, holistic treatments… it can be difficult to know what to try, and sometimes it can be overwhelming trying it all. That’s why I would recommend finding a good fertility coach, someone who can lead you in the direction that would best be suited to you and your needs.
Let me finish by touching on something that often comes up when Mind-Body work is mentioned – and that is women often feel they are to blame.
If the problem isn’t physical, they think they have created the problem in their minds by thinking negatively or not believing in themselves enough, or allowing themselves to be stressed out….so let me reassure you….
YOU ARE NOT TO BLAME. THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT.
Like I explained earlier, your body has a primal response to stress signals, there is nothing you can do to control that. Your body doesn’t know the difference between you being under serious threat or just stuck in traffic!
You cannot take yourself out of all stressful situations. But what you can do is learn tools and techniques to help you handle it better.
You also cannot stop thinking negative thoughts – it’s impossible! We all have our little demons in our minds, reminding us we’re not good enough, not healthy enough, we’re too old etc. You cannot make that go away, but again you can learn the tools and techniques to manage it.
That is what the Mind-Body approach means. It doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, and overcome all your issues and be a little miss positive Pollyanna. It simply is a tool to help your hormones play ball.
So I will leave you with a technique that Dr Alice Domar teaches.
Try it the next time a negative thought arises about your fertility.
- Does this thought contribute to my stress?
- Where did I learn this thought?
- Is this thought logical?
- Is this thought true?
I also like to talk to my thoughts, or even better, write them down in a journal. When a negative one comes up I’ll write it in my journal, then score it out and write:
“Thank you for bringing that up, but I believe this thought is not logical / not true / is creating stress in my body, so I choose to let it go”.
Lynn is a Fertility Coach, Reflexologist, Arvigo Practitioner and Emotion Code Practitioner who works holistically with women who are trying to conceive.
Please visit www.lynndoak.com for more info on how Lynn can help you on your fertility journey.