Stress is inevitable. It’s the elephant in the room that, when ignored, has a tendency to multiply in size and magnitude. While COVID did force us to slow down, it simply replaced the stress of living too fast, too hard, for too long (frantic commutes, packed calendars, and late nights, anyone??) with the stress of navigating a global pandemic. In my dream world, neither situation would exist.
There is no denying that stress has a deleterious effect on health and wellness, but what about fertility? We each have our own threshold for tolerating and mitigating stress. On the surface, it is hard to know exactly how much certain kinds of stress affect fertility. We do know, however, that a common contributor to infertility is insufficient ovulation. And one of the top reasons for insufficient ovulation is stress.
Stress comes in many forms: mental/emotional, relationships, poor sleep, inadequate nutrition, chemical, and biochemical just to name a few. The body responds to these stressors by releasing a cascade of stress-balancing hormones to protect our body. One of the key players in this cascade is cortisol.
Cortisol is produced by the adrenal cortex, a lovely little gland that sits atop the kidneys and functions to regulate metabolism, the immune system, and your response to stress. The adrenals also produce DHEA which counteracts the effects of cortisol and is the building block for sex hormones (estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone) which are essential for healthy ovulation to occur. It’s not enough to ovulate every menstrual cycle. The quality of ovulation is just as important.
Cortisol and DHEA need to be in proper ratio. We only have so much energy to go around. If you are stressed out, there is a good chance you are in a cortisol-dominant state and sex hormone production is compromised. This results in insufficient ovulation.
Now that we have our arms around stress and its impact on ovulation and fertility you might be thinking... okay, now what?
If you are ready to optimize your ovulatory potential, read on. Below are seven simple strategies you can integrate into your daily life to manage stress and balance your hormones.
✿ Safeguard your sleep. Develop a favorite bedtime routine (e.g. a warm drink or bath and a good book or magazine, a few stretches, a to-do list for tomorrow,…) and protect your 7 to 8 hours of sleep time from visual or mental distractions.
✿ Eat more foods with Vitamin B, C, and magnesium. These include eggs, pork tenderloin, chicken, asparagus, green beans, Romaine lettuce, spinach, kale, apples, oranges, berries, melons, red peppers, dark chocolate, almond butter, pumpkin seeds… you have lots of options. Stock up and eat from the rainbow at every meal. But avoid food you have sensitivities to, even if they are mentioned on this list ;)
✿ Switch to lower-intensity exercise. Swap cross-fit for cycling, boot camp for pilates, running for swimming. Higher intensity exercise causes the body to release higher levels of cortisol which can lead to unpredictable fertility. Remember that your perfect exercise routine leaves you invigorated, not exhausted, just like the perfect meal!
✿ Consider your relationships. Is there a difficult conversation you need to have? Write down how you’d like that conversation to go, just to get it off your chest.
✿ Book a massage or two. A good massage therapist will help you release tension you didn’t even know you were holding! There’s even a massage that specializes in releasing abdominal tension related to reproductive woes.
✿ Note how sugar, alcohol, and caffeine make you feel.Do these anti-nutrients satisfy you, or do they leave you more tired, wired, and wanting something else? Let your answer guide your choice to consume them or leave them on the shelf. If you are actively trying to conceive, it’s recommended to minimize if not completely eliminate all three. I realize this isn’t a simple strategy in practice. Connecting with a health coach can help you create a customized plan of action setting you up for success.
✿ Eat some fat! Swap your 4 p.m. treat attack for a few tablespoons of almond butter, a half avocado, or some delicious whole milk yogurt. Add high-quality butter or coconut oil to your coffee (it blends nicely into a latte) or drizzle extra olive oil on to your soup or salad.
While these strategies are simple, they take intentional implementation for results to occur. But guess what, you are worth it! Start with the one that feels easiest, focus on it for a week, or even a month or two, then move on to the next. Healing takes time. You’ve got this. I believe in you.
Written by: Melissa Buchan, CYC Founder and Fertility Coach