How stress affects our hormones

Feb 15, 2021 | Uncategorized

Everyone hears that stress can have a negative impact on your fertility and reproductive health, but have you ever wondered exactly how?


During stress, the adrenal glands which sit on top of the kidneys are stimulated to produce stress hormones including cortisol and adrenalin. This process happens due to a mechanism which begins in the brain, specifically, in the hypothalamus. Activation of the sympathetic nervous system (the flight or fight aspect of the nervous system) occurs. The hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal gland work together through feedback mechanisms to perceive stressors in the environment and produce stress hormones that enhance survival in challenging times. Though these hormones allow our bodies to successfully overcome major stresses and threats, they are often counterproductive when trying to conceive.


During an IVF cycle, people experience stress at different levels and it’s no wonder. Recent research has shown that for many women infertility can create levels of anxiety and depression equivalent to women with cancer, HIV status or heart diseases. 


While stress in the short term is not a bad thing, overtime chronic stress puts our health, wellbeing and fertility at risk. High levels of stress have been shown to: 
👉🏻alter the function of the hypothalamus gland, which controls ovulation;
👉🏻contribute to irregular menstrual periods;
👉🏻produce high levels of cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone;
👉🏻decrease reproductive hormones like estrogen and progesterone;
👉🏻divert blood flow from the ovaries and uterine lining, thereby affecting egg quality and successful implantation.


A 2005 study found that women who had lower adrenaline levels at the day of retrieval and lower adrenaline levels at the day of transfer had a higher success rate in IVF cycles.   


What can we do to reduce stress? At Angea, we encourage our patients to use stress reduction methods such as:


Hugging is the BEST and its free. We feel so much joy, happiness and connection when we hug another human being or furry friend. Hugging releases the hormone oxytocin lowering both our heart rates and our cortisol levels.
Cortisol is the hormone responsible for stress, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Seriously if you’re not hugging you’re missing out. 


The breath plays an important role and has a powerful influence over our physiological and psychological well-being. Breathing is something we don’t pay a great deal of attention too. In fact, its is an unconscious response we do naturally. At the clinic we teach our patients conscious breathing and conscious awareness; it is a form of mindfulness. Different types of breathing patterns have distinct physiological effects. When we connect to conscious breath, it triggers the physiological response of rest and digest. Everything in the body begins to slow down; our heart rate, our mind, our breathing becomes deeper and consciously we begin to connect into our body. Suddenly, we notice we are in a more relaxed state.


A new study indicates that the mere act of smiling can help us deal with stressful situations more easily. Just moving your muscles into a smile will release the happy hormones called ‘endorphins’ and decrease your stress hormone “cortisol” The next time you find yourself in a stressful situation, simply raise your lips and smile. Ps: Smiling is contagious. 


Mind-body techniques are extremely valuable as it teaches us to get out of our heads and connect in with our body. This is an essential tool when it comes to our fertility and IVF cycles. Mind-Body treatment of infertility patients has been shown to increase pregnancy rates as well as reducing psychological distress.
@circle_and_bloom offer a mind-body series for natural fertility and IVF treatments. There is a daily meditation for each day of your cycle. The program offers a daily meditation for each day of the menstrual cycle or each stage of the IVF treatment and works by using deep relaxation, therapeutic visualizations and emotional awareness exercises. Women can listen to the audio programs on their iPhone, iPod or computer and takes just 15 minutes a day. Headspace is another great meditation app. Andy breaks meditation down and keeps it simple. There is a free download on Itunes. Its 10 minutes of meditation for 10 nights. It’s a great introduction to meditation and easy to follow. We also recommend the apps 1Giant Mind and Insight Timer.


Life is full of ebbs and flows and some experiences can be harder than others. Having an awareness is key to shifting and changing your perspective. The moment you become aware the change has already begun. Begin by identifying the positive in each experience. 


The power of our mind and emotions can impact our health and wellbeing during an IVF cycle. Thoughts are seeds we plant in the soil of our bodies. In ancient Chinese medicine there is a phrase “yi yi yin chi”, and its translation is ‘energy follows intention’. As our mind influences every cell in our body, we are responsible and to notice our thoughts and feelings and the impact they have on overall health. Start by getting to know your thoughts. Observing our thoughts is crucial in our ability to change them. And changing the way we think about our fertility can have a profound impact on our overall happiness. It stands to reason, then, that our overall attitude can play an important role in our fertility. Daily affirmations are a great way to create a positive mindset.


Begin to notice how your body feels as you move through each day. It’s easy to judge our bodies for not supporting us, or to only notice what’s ‘not working’. And it’s common to feel let down by our bodies when facing our fertility challenges. I encourage you to shift your awareness to what is working in your body and how your body is responding. Our bodies are doing so many complicated, incredible things each day we almost forget.


Focus on the positive aspects: 
The more connected we are, the more we will notice our bodies working positively for us. If you have been doing repeated cycles this can help restore faith back into your mind and body.
You and Your Partner

IVF is stressful so make sure you take time out to spend with your partner doing the things you both enjoy. Both of you will react differently to the pressures. Try and find time each evening to talk about what has happened and how you are feeling, so everything is out in the open. Just remember you need to be able to support each other through this journey together.


By becoming aware of our patterns of stress it can allow us to identify its source and ultimately begin to eliminate these situations, behaviours and conditions out of our lives that are stressful. “We can all do with a little less stress”.


Amanda is the founder of Angea and has over 12 years of experience working with women to support their health journey. In addition to being a registered doctor of Chinese medicine, Amanda is a yoga teacher and founder of Mindful Pregnancy Yoga Training. Amanda offers acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and womb healing treatments at Angea.