Well-Being//

Is Stress Impacting Your Fertility?

Getting pregnant can be hard -- even anxiety-inducing. This study will help you understand why.

A new Boston University study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, shows a link between stress and difficulty conceiving.

It’s unclear whether the relationship is a causal one, but the researchers suggest that stress may lead to less intercourse and more irregular menstrual cycles, both of which would negatively impact the chance of pregnancy.

The research also notes the importance of integrating good mental health care into the trying-to-conceive process, according to Amelia Wesselink, Ph.D., a researcher at the Boston University School of Public Health and the study’s lead author. “Although this study does not definitely prove that stress causes infertility, it does provide evidence supporting the integration of mental health care in preconception guidance and care,” Wesselink says.

Stress for men, the study found, doesn’t impact pregnancy results in the same way — there doesn’t seem to be a correlation. But male fertility has also been in the news this week: Sperm count is falling.

According to The Cut’s Daniel Engber, a low sperm count actually has a lot more to do with stress in men than fertility: “sperm counts (and concentrations) have at best a weak relationship to male fertility, and… we’re not yet in the ballpark of… a reproductive crash.” Still, falling sperm numbers continue to provoke concern in the U.S., particularly in the media. Engber argues that the real issue isn’t an immediate danger to men’s fertility but instead anxiety around masculinity.

For both these male and female fertility concerns, one solution may be the same: a real, concerted effort to expand attention to anxiety and stress, their sources, and the teaching of effective stress management. Indeed, better attention to stress management would serve men and women well whether or not they are trying to get pregnant.

These microsteps can help get you there:

Incorporate exercise into your daily routine

Research from the University of Vermont has emphasized the amazing benefits of exercise for mental health — and not necessarily super-strenuous exercise, either. Just a quick daily walk, a morning sun salutation, or some jumping jacks on your lunch break can help manage stress.

Write down your negative emotions

Writing out the anxieties that bounce around in your head constantly can help you work through and kick them, according to research from the journal Psychological Science. This is a great way to deal with both immediate anxieties stemming from daily stressors and larger, existential anxieties, like questions of what “masculinity” really means for you. Negative thoughts can be circular. Writing them down can help you move forward towards a more positive outlook.

Lean on your social support network

Social support has been linked to decreased symptoms of PTSD, one of the most acute manifestations of stress. Whatever your level of stress and anxiety, leaning on your support network should help you manage it. So call up a family member, get lunch with a friend, and talk through your feelings.

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