Walking in nature can help reduce our stress

The intimate dance between stress and fertility

Stress and fertility – I am sure this is something we have all heard, how stress impacts our fertility and to just relax! This is not helpful and can create even more harm as we start to stress about stressing. So lets have a look at stress and its effect on our reproductive system and what you can do to promote relaxation and stress reduction to change this negative impact on your fertility.

Stress steals our hormonal balance

Stress is a nervous system response. When we are stressed the sympathetic nervous system kicks in and releases cortisol creating the flight or fight response. Our heart rate increases, our muscles tense to get ready to fight or run, and our breathing shallows. This is all in response to protect us from danger. However, when we are in the chronic state of the stress response, the surging of cortisol continues. When the body runs out of cortisol it uses up pregnenolone, a pre hormone to create more cortisol. This is called the ‘pregnenolone steal’. Pregnenolone is also used to create other hormones including progesterone.

If there is not enough pregnenolone to create progesterone, we have a hormonal imbalance in our reproductive hormones. This creates symptoms including pre menstrual tension and fertility issues. This is how chronic stress can cause hormonal imbalance.

The menstrual cycle phases

Now lets look at the reproductive hormonal system. Our menstrual phase can be divided into 2, 3 or 4 phases. However in this article we will look at 2 of the phases – the follicular stage that produces estrogen, and the luteal phase which produces progesterone.

The follicular stage is from menstruation until ovulation. Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) is released from the hypothalamus into the blood stream. This hormone then stimulates the ovary to stimulate follicles. One of these follicles will ripen into a mature egg. Oestrogen is realised from these ovarian follicles which then starts to thicken of the endometrium, preparing it to nourish a fertilised egg.

At ovulation, oestrogen and the luteinizing hormone (LH) spikes, triggering the release of the matured egg from the ovarian follicle. This follicle, now called the corpus luteum, starts to produce progesterone.

Progesterone maintains the thickened endometrium, and also helps prevent contractions in the uterus. If there is a pregnancy, the progesterone levels remain high, released from the corpus luteum until the placenta takes over. If there is no fertilized egg, progesterone will begin to decrease and menstruation occurs.

The menstrual cycle is a stress sensitive system, and when we experience stress, it disrupts the natural balance of hormones as outlined above. An imbalance in the nervous system can create an imbalance in the reproductive system.

When we are struggling to conceive, stress builds up. The confusion and disappointment of cycle after cycle of either not falling pregnant or recurrent miscarriages takes a toll on our physical body as well as our mental health. There is a lot of emphasis on preparing our body for fertility – eating well, exercising appropriately, not drinking alcohol or smoking. However our mental health needs to be taken into account also, perhaps even more so then our physical body.

What to do to balance our stress and hormonal levels
  1. Honour your menstrual cycle
    Our society is often all about go go go. Achievement is a high value. Working hard and long hours, out socializing, exercising strenuously. However, our menstrual cycle has a rhythm. Often we are not aware of it. There are times that we are have lots of energy when our cycle is in balance. But there are also times where resting is more appropriate for our body. Menstruation is one of these times. Allow yourself time to rest, relax during menstruation. This will support your fertility.
  2. Make your mental health a priority
    Struggling with fertility is so hard. The statistics overwhelmingly show anxiety and depression are common when struggling to have a baby. Whether it is finding support from a professional or friends and family, put your mental health first.
  3. Spend time in nature
    Being in nature helps relax us. Being in a green environment, around trees reduces the effect of the sympathetic nervous system (flight and fight response). It helps promote relaxation and even improves sleep.
  4. Acupuncture
    Acupuncture is an ancient system that promotes relaxation. While science has not been able to explain why, many people feel positive benefits after receiving acupuncture.

By shifting focus from what you can do to help improve your fertility, to also looking after you, will support your fertility. This can be done in little steps. Rest a little during menstruation, plan short walks in nature, what ever small steps you can take to bring balance fertility journey.

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