Stress causes a number of chemical changes in the brain that trigger physical changes throughout the body. In the short term, these can be helpful – sharpening our mind for a tricky meeting for example, or giving us a necessary boost of energy to meet a tough deadline. In the long term, however, stress can take its toll on the body, causing everything from high blood pressure to sleep and digestive disorders.
There’s also some evidence that stress can interfere with ovulation, too. If you’re not ovulating regularly then it will definitely be harder to conceive. In fact, one study found it could be almost a third more difficult to get pregnant if your stress levels are high. We don’t know why this is exactly, but it may be that stress affects the pituitary gland, the part of the brain that tells the ovaries when to release an egg.
This makes sense when you think about it, from an evolutionary perspective – the last thing the body needs is to support an extra life if conditions are already stressful. Of course none of this makes it any less frustrating if you’re trying to conceive. So here are just a few ways to take the pressure off and boost your chances of conception:
Work is the biggest cause of stress in most people’s lives. In fact, a recent survey commissioned by the mental health charity Mind found more than a third of people felt stressed out by their job. If you’re trying to conceive then it makes sense to scale back your work commitments. Yes, this goes against everything Sheryl Sandberg said in her international bestseller Lean In: Women, Work And The Will To Lead, but if your aim is to become pregnant, it’s important to prioritize. At the very least, switching off your mobile phone when you get home and stopping answering emails out of hours will help to reduce stress…
If your workload is overwhelming then it’s definitely time to have a chat with your boss or HR manager. He or she doesn’t need to know your intention to get pregnant, just that you’re feeling stressed and concerned that it’s affecting your health. Your employer has a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of staff, so the company will definitely take your concerns seriously.
Exercise is a great way to manage your stress levels. Cardiovascular exercise like running and swimming is helpful for ridding the body of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. It also encourages the release of feel-good brain chemicals called endorphins. If you don’t fancy getting sweaty, then yoga is renowned for its calming effects and many gyms run lunchtime classes. Meditation is also wonderful for clearing the mind – download an app to your phone and practise it on your commute.
No matter how stressful your job is, worrying about conceiving will only make matters worse. Remember, 68% of women trying for a baby will be successful within the first 3 months, 81% within the first 6 months and 92% within a year. In other words, you’ll be on maternity leave before you know it.