In a fast paced world where people are constantly chasing time, deadlines, and are driven by the need to succeed, high levels of stress are common place. Medical research has shown time and again that chronic stress can have a negative impact on long-term health, but the implications on fertility and the ability to conceive are lesser known. However, recent literature and medical studies have shown that the reduction of stress can account for higher pregnancy rates. This is according to Mandy Rodrigues, a clinical psychologist specialising in fertility management at Medfem Clinic.
Rodrigues suggests that the link between stress and fertility is multi-faceted. “Not only does stress inhibit the ability to conceive, but the constant disappointment of not being able to conceive compounds an individual or a couple’s stress levels,” says Rodrigues.
“We know that stress has a direct impact on our physical health, which in turn has an impact on our fertility as well as the outcome of treatment,” adds Rodrigues. “We address a very specific type of stress called ‘Time Urgency Perfectionism Stress’. In simple terms this describes a person that is a perfectionist, is constantly chasing deadlines, and is experiencing exceptionally high levels of stress.”
Dr Antonio Rodrigues, a fertility specialist at Medfem Clinic, adds that when an individual is continuously stressed, they secrete hormones that inhibit normal immune function and constrict the blood vessels, which in turn affects the body’s ability to conceive.
“We recognised the link between stress and infertility about 14 years ago when we were seeing several patients that had a similar personality type,” he says. “Not only were these people extremely hard working, driven and self-confessed perfectionists, they also had other symptoms of stress including irritable bowel syndrome, spastic colon and chronic fatigue.” He explains that there is also a physiological cause, and that many of these patients tend to experience insomnia, bouts of depression, and a feeling of being out of control.
Mandy Rodrigues says that there is also a difference between good stress and bad stress. “Most people are worried about normal daily challenges such as the economic situation and crime, but when it comes to the inability to conceive, we are talking specifically about people that are chronically stressed on a day-to-day basis,” she says.
Studies have shown that the link between stress and infertility is quite significant with at least 30% of women being affected. Therefore, according to Mandy Rodrigues, not managing your stress might give you the same results as the next person, but managing your stress will give you a better than average chance of falling pregnant. “If we can encourage individuals to manage their stress their chances of falling pregnant are much higher.”
Therefore managing stress is a definite component to treating infertility. “Changing your lifestyle is critical,” says Dr Antonio Rodrigues. “It not only increases your likelihood of falling pregnant but increases your longevity.” He explains that the same people who experience fertility problems during their 20s or 30s will have a higher risk of diabetes, conarary heart disease and cancer later on in life. “It’s all about eating properly, maintaining a moderate lifestyle, taking nutrients and managing your stress,” he adds.
Another contributing factor is the stress of actually undergoing the treatment for infertility. “Recently published literature has indicated that the emotional reactions and consequences of infertility can be compared to those experienced in a post traumatic stress reaction,” says Mandy Rodrigues.
“The woman or couple will experience a constant grieving cycle each month with reactions like shock, disbelief, bargaining, anger and depression. However, instead of acceptance, the couple faces a new cycle of hope again as the next cycle of treatment begins,” she says. “The causes of infertility and the processes one undergoes in diagnosing and subsequently treating infertility, have their own emotional and financial consequences for the individual and the couple. All of these have an impact on the individual and may result in depression, anxiety, helplessness and isolation.”
An important suggestion for couples that are thinking of starting a family is to have a fertility plan, which maps out the stages in your treatment plan as well as possible options or reactions after each step has taken place. “This has an important psychological impact, because when people know what to expect, and they have a back-up plan, it offers them peace of mind,” says Dr Antonio Rodrigues, adding that this will also help to manage stress, and in turn promotes better results.
“We conducted a study where the pregnancy rates for in vitro fertilisation in individuals that were properly managing their stress and these went up by 40%. The overall pregnancy rate in couples managing their stress was increased to 67% per cycle,” he says.
Stress management really changes lives, not just in terms of treating infertility, but by actually creating long-term benefits. “We have had the opportunity to bump into some of patients whom we treated 10 years ago and it’s clear that effective stress management has actually improved their overall long-term quality of life,” concludes Mandy Rodrigues