Studies show that stress negatively impacts fertility. Studies also show that women who experience problems getting pregnant have similar levels of depression and anxiety to those suffering from life-threatening diseases like cancer or heart disease.
Dr. Sarah Berga, at Emory University’s, explains that the hypothalamus, which is a walnut-sized organ in the middle of the brain, regulates BOTH stress and your fertility. Berga’s recent study shows that the hypothalamus acts as our reproductive system’s “master of ceremonies”.
Let’s look more closely at stress
Stress whether from something environmental (work, money or challenges at work) or a persistent worry (like not getting pregnant, relationship woes, even small health concerns) triggers a cascade of biological responses, which produce hormonal and physiological changes in the body.
You may have heard of the phrase “fight-or-flight”. This phrase evolved because the stress response is a survival mechanism, which enables people and other mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations. This near-instantaneous sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses helps us fight the threat or flee to safety.
Unfortunately, stress is at epidemic levels in today’s’ society, which means our body is overreacting to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as emails, traffic, long lines, work pressure, and family dynamics. When our body is in a constant state of physiological arousal over perceived threats, the body’s relaxation response doesn’t always have time to kick in before the next stressor hits.
Because of this, understanding stress has been at the heart of worldwide research for decades. Researchers have learned not only how and why these reactions occur, but have also gained insight into the long-term effects stress has on physical and psychological health.
What’s going on inside your brain
The stress response begins in the brain (see illustration). When we experience perceived danger, our eyes and/or ears send what they see and hear to the amygdala. The amygdala interprets the images and sounds and if it identifies it as a threat, it instantly sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus.
This hypothalamus functions like a command center, communicating with the rest of the body through the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS controls involuntary body functions such as breathing, blood pressure, heartbeat, and the dilation or constriction of key blood vessels.
The autonomic nervous system has two components, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. When the sympathetic nervous system sounds the alarm, it triggers the stress (fight-or-flight) response.
The Stress Response
This cues off the adrenals which pump epinephrine through the bloodstream, bringing on physiological changes including; increased heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, blood flow, rapid breathing, airways open for increased oxygen to the brain (heightened alertness), sight, hearing, and other senses sharpen. Meanwhile, epinephrine also triggers increased blood sugar and fats into the bloodstream to supply extra energy to all parts of the body.
Changes happen so quickly that people aren’t aware of them. In fact, chronic stress has shown to increase the size of the amygdala (it’s a muscle) creating an increase in the tendency to react to even small stressors.
MINDFULNESS elicits the Relaxation response.
Mindfulness dampens the amygdala and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. This promotes the “relaxation response” which calms the body down after the danger or perceived danger has passed.
The Relaxation Response
This is a state of physiological relaxation, where blood pressure, heart rate, digestive functioning, and hormonal levels return to their normal state. There are several mindfulness techniques that have been studied and associated with triggering this response including; breathing techniques, visualization, meditation, mantra, and yoga.
Simply put mindfulness practices reduce stress, anxiety, even depression by promoting the relaxation response. What neuroscience has revealed is that over time a regular mindfulness practice changes our relationship with stress. Neuroplasticity shows our ability to change at a molecular level, and mindfulness is a powerful evidenced-based tool that everyone can use to create lasting internal and external change.
The Masters Course: Professional Mindfulness Training
Michelle Anne, founder of The Masters Course, a corporation that teaches professional mindfulness and stress mastery courses explains, When trying to conceiveit only makes sense that our body needs to be in a receptive, relaxed and balanced state… not a state of “fight or flight” that most of us unconsciously live in.” Regular mindfulness practice builds our resilience to stress and keeps us from falling deeper into states of anxiety and depression. Each practice literally re-sets the brain to a neutral state – or a clean slate.”
What we know:
- Stress has a negative impact on our fertility
- Infertility causes exorbitant levels of stress, creating a negative loop that is difficult near impossible to get out of on your own
- Studies show mindfulness changes our relationship with stress
- Mindfulness is dose-based, increasing effectiveness over-time
- Mindfulness is associated with lower anxiety, increased pregnancy rates, positive outlook, better sleep and overall happiness
NEW Mindfulness and Fertility Research
Mindfulness-based programs are entering the spotlight in the field of Fertility and Pregnancy, like the one at Boston’s IVF’s Domar Center for Mind-body Health (domarcenter.com).
Research on Alice Domars’ program clearly shows a relationship between participating in the mind-body program and increased pregnancy rates. In a randomized study looking at 185 women trying to conceive for 1-2 years, half were put into a control group receiving routine care only, the other half were put into a mind-body group. The study revealed that 52% of the women receiving the mind-body therapy became pregnant and delivered vs. the control group where only 20% became pregnant and delivered. The same study revealed that the psychological state of the patients receiving mind-body therapy improved whereas those in the control group got worse.
In summary, those who participate in a mind-body wellness program are 32% more likely to become pregnant!
Here are some tips to get started!
Get an intention. An Intention is something you want to create in your life, or who you want to be. It can be something like, I am Peace, I am a pillar of loving strength, I am perfect just as I am. I am happy right now. Take a minute and write an intention that really resonates with you.
Now that you have an intention here is how to use it. When you find your mind wandering into negative self-talk. Deliberately direct ALL your attention to your intention. Now, I want you to fuel your intention with your core energy. Focus all of your attention on this intention, and feel it.
By doing this, we are deliberately re-wiring our brain to create what we are visualizing. We are what we think, say and do. It’s important to make your intention a direction for your life. Not something you want to attain materially or a goal.
Always, always be in integrity. When our life is out of integrity in large or small ways, it’s a sign we are out of balance. This comes down to your closet, returning phone calls, making doctor appointments, keeping appointments. Think about it this way, when we are out of integrity with cleaning the garage, how do you feel when you walk through the garage? Terrible right? It drains your energy when you are out of integrity on even one thing. However, after you clean the garage, how do you feel? Amazing! Being in integrity increases your life force energy, and brings a spunk back into your step. You effortlessly get into a natural effortless flow. In this state, we are relaxed and receptive to what life brings us.
Use your breath. The breath is our mind made visible. There is a breathing pattern for every emotional, mental and physical state of being. When you sense you are edgy, stressed, overwhelmed, or not in flow, immediately focus your attention on your breath. First, just notice you are breathing. Simply notice. Now, without effort, naturally lengthen your inhalations and exhalations just slightly. This has a profound impact on your autonomic nervous system, stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system or inducing the relaxation response in your brain. To go further, simply notice the subtle pause, the natural suspension of the breath at the top of the inhalation and the bottom of the exhalation. Just notice. All of your attention on the suspension of breath. That’s it. Without effort, just sense the silence of the mind when the breath is suspended. Now how do you feel?
Over time, chronic stress takes a serious toll on the body, reducing your chances of getting pregnant. Research suggests that those who participate in a mind-body wellness program are 32% more likely to become pregnant!
- Mind-Body Therapy, by Ernest Rossi and David Cheek, published in 1988 by W.W. Norton & Company
- NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
- Molecules of Emotion, The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine, by Candace Pert, Ph.D., published in 1997 by Scribner
- Breast Cancer.org
- Medpedia.com_ mindfulness and Life Threatening Circumstances
- Alice Domar, Conquering Infertility, www.domarcenter.com