Stress: the ‘new normal’: the enemy of conception you may not even realise is affecting you...
We know that stress isnt good for conception. It is also annoying when people tell us not to be stressed! We take a look at where a lot of modern stress can come from, how it impacts having a baby, some of the hidden stresses, which are the ‘bad’ sort (not all stress is bad actually!) and most importantly give you some practical tools to put yourself in a better position. It’s all about knowing your enemy!
Most of us know that ‘stress’ isnt good for conception. However, often this isnt helpful as:
a) its stressful trying not to be stressed (!)
b) not all stress is bad…
The key is knowing what type of stress works against us, how it works against us and what type of ‘stress’ we can realistically do something about.
Chronic and generalised stress: what is it? How do you know if it's impacting you and how can it impact conception so significantly?
So everyone knows what ‘stress’ is right?
Of course there are the obvious connotations we think of around ‘being stressed’. This includes worrying about money, deadlines or whether you left your hair tong on before you left for work. Often this type of stress isn't particularly bad. In fact, it can be useful. If acts as a protector. It will likely stop you blowing all your savings at the Net-a-porter sale (just half then…), it probably stops you from being fired from your job, ensures you get out of bed in the morning and also ensures you don't burn down your house. All pretty necessary things…
This is not the type of stress that you really have to be worried about. Particularly if it is isolated to more occasional events and triggers.
It's the chronic type that you need to worry about.
So what really constitutes ‘chronic stress’?
It's a bit of a sneaky one as it is the type of stress you’ve had for so long that it has almost become normal….
So what is chronic stress/how do you know if you are being impacted?
The trouble these days is that we tend to impose a lot of pressures on ourselves over long periods of time. Not feeling ‘good enough’, feeling constant pressure to be better, faster, more fashionable and slimmer.
Modern technology is a blessing in many ways but it also means we are never ‘unavailable’ (even planes which were my respite now have WiFi - how annoying) and it also means its very easy to compare ourselves to everyone else’s picture perfect existence.
It doesn’t stop at mental stress though. This applies to physical stressors too. These also cause the body to be under chronic stress. The good news here however is that often we can get a bit more of a handle on this type. Physical stressors tend to be easier to avoid than the ones that stress us mentally (although much more to come on that…).
So, what is a physical stressor?
These can be a whole host of things. From what we eat (highly processed, full of synthetic ingredients, pesticides, hormones and antibiotics) to lack of sleep, to blasts of intense exercise against sitting down for long periods of time hunched over a desk.
We all feel certain degrees of ‘stress’ these days, but how do you know if you’ve been impacted to a potentially detrimental level? And how does it impact your ability to conceive?
On a very general level the way our body reacts to stress is overproduction of the hormones Cortisol and Adrenaline. This is a perfectly natural and healthy response. The trouble is when it is over produced over a long period of time. That’s when we face consequences and specifically for your ability to conceive easily.
Here are some of the signs that you may be suffering from the effects of this:
You struggle to lose weight despite exercise and watching calorie intake
Difficulty controlling your appetite (thanks to your hunger hormones being out of balance - Leptin and Ghrelin)
Weight gain particularly around your midsection sometimes in spite of consistent exercise.
Trouble getting good quality restful sleep (particularly being tired all day and getting a ‘second wind’ at night)
Trouble regulating your moods (feeling anxious, depressed or irritable)
What’s going on here? Why does it have such an impact on conception?
In a very basic terms, this goes back to the start of time and our innate need for survival. In the old days a ‘threat’ could be that we were being hunted or struggling with famine or drought etc. These days stress is usually driven by both mental and physical threats: chronic anxiety, overstimulation, bad processed food and not enough sleep. Once in a while of course this is an extremely useful mechanism. The trouble is these days we are often in a chronic state of ‘survive’...
So, what actually happens to your body when you’re stressed?
When you are under ‘threat’ the body produces the hormone cortisol to kick you in to action. It's the basic ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. When this happens cortisol is released by your adrenal glands and blood is directed away from anything that isn’t entirely necessary to surviving in that instant. So, away from stomach and reproductive organs and towards the brain, heart and legs. Crucially it also causes the body to draw out reserves of glucose from the liver (you might need it for all the fighting or flight-ing you’re about to do). This means you have more glucose in your blood giving you ready and quick energy. Great if you need to escape but especially not good if you have issues like PCOS (more on this below).
I’m sure you know this feeling well - when you’re extremely stressed you may feel sick, lose your appetite and your mouth becomes dry. This happens as your blood moves away from your stomach and digestive system and into your legs, lungs and brain.
From a conception perspective (in very simple terms) if your body determines that the current environment as ‘unsafe’ then it shuts down the mechanism to produce a child, because:
a) the resources are needed for primary survival
b) it is not deemed a ‘safe’ situation to bring a child in to.
This sounds a bit dramatic, but, there are some very real consequences and reactions from persistently high levels of Cortisol which will impact your ability to conceive under these conditions. Here is how:
It has a knock on effect to other hormones: it is essentially the hormone that allows other hormones in or out of a cell. No cortisol means no hormones in to a cell at all. Of course you’re unlikely to have no cortisol at all, this just shows you the body’s overall sensitivity to it.
It causes more glucose to be in your blood which in turn impacts your body’s production of insulin. More glucose = more insulin. The trouble is that if this continues for a long period of time it builds insulin resistance which is a common issue for those with PCOS. It will also start to impact our weight (making you more likely to gain weight). So persistently high cortisol is not helpful for those with Polycystic Ovaries (PCOS).
More cortisol and insulin = potential knock on effects to other key hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
Studies have shown that in times of high stress your Cortisol levels can increase as much as 20x! (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3573577/)
So as you can see - there are real biochemical consequences.
Bottom line: In simple terms: if your body is under persistent stress (from toxic food, lifestyle and general anxiety or general pollutants you’re likely to have trouble conceiving).
So, the next obvious question is what are some of the physical causes of chronic stress on the body and how do we avoid this? How you can give your body an extra helping hand to rebalance? Click here to find out.
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.