Mind-Body Connection: How Mental Health Affects Fertility and Vice Versa
Facing infertility is a deeply personal and often challenging journey for many individuals and couples. The relationship between mental well-being and infertility is complex and multifaceted, with each influencing one another. The emotional toll of struggling to conceive, navigating medical treatments, and facing uncertainty about the future can cause or exacerbate feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. On the other hand, your mental health can also impact fertility by altering hormone levels, affecting reproductive function, or influencing lifestyle factors. Understanding the interplay between mental health and infertility is crucial in providing comprehensive support and care for individuals and couples on their path to parenthood.
Stress and Infertility
While stress itself is not a primary cause of infertility, it can interfere with the body’s natural functions and sometimes negatively affect ovulation and embryo implantation due to abnormal hormone levels. For example, stress is associated with high levels of adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones that inhibit one of the body’s reproductive hormones, called gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH).
GnRH is responsible for the release of the sex hormones that stimulate the reproductive organs—the ovaries and testes—to produce eggs, sperm, and sex hormones (e.g., estrogens and androgens). GnRH suppression can result in decreased ovulation in females and decreased sperm count in males, lowered sexual activity, and imbalanced hormones both in males and females.
Some studies show that anxiety can interfere with conception. In today’s world, anxiety is not always easy to pinpoint; people commonly rush around multitasking daily to get things done. Many people carry around a sense of mild anxiety, just dealing with the demands of the modern world. However, when anxiety is intense and/or prolonged, it can impact all aspects of life, including family planning.
Infertility and Depression
While stress and anxiety can potentially influence fertility, a lot of the emotional challenges associated with infertility are caused by infertility itself, rather than vice versa. Being diagnosed with infertility often leads to depression for many, adding an extra layer of emotional burden to an already complex situation. Dealing with infertility-related depression makes it challenging for many people to feel motivated, hopeful, or even capable of making decisions about fertility care. The weight of depression can make it difficult to envision a future that includes parenthood or drain you of your energy and enthusiasm, making it exceedingly hard to research and navigate your fertility care options. Depression can also exacerbate feelings of guilt, self-doubt, and worthlessness, all of which can further hinder the decision-making process
Managing Mental Health While Dealing with Infertility
Regardless of what your chosen path to parenthood entails, finding ways to manage the stressors of your experience should be an integral part of your fertility plan from the jump. Mind-body therapies and stress management techniques that you can readily access can help lower stress levels; examples include:
- Reduction of the manageable stress in your life (e.g., change your job, evaluate dysfunctional relationships, and more)
- A shift in your perception of things that cause you to react negatively (e.g., acceptance, using gratitude to focus on the things that are going right instead of those that are not working out, etc.)
- Employing a daily practice to help you cope with stress (e.g., a fitness routine, meditation practice, relaxation techniques, or other practices)
- Ensuring that you are getting adequate sleep
If you’re experiencing severe stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms, it’s strongly recommended that you seek professional help from a therapist or counselor, engage in open communication with loved ones, and find the necessary support you need to overcome emotional obstacles.