We live in a society where always being busy is celebrated and self-care is viewed as some sort of indulgence. This means stress is a part of almost everyone's daily lives — sometimes despite our best efforts to reduce it. We know stress isn't good for our health, but it turns out it can also impact our fertility — for women, at least.
A new study out of the Boston University School of Public Health found higher levels of stress are associated with lower odds of conception for women but not for men.
"Although this study does not definitely prove that stress causes infertility, it does provide evidence supporting the integration of mental health care in preconception guidance and care," BUSPH doctoral student Amelia Wesselink, the study's lead author, said in a statement.
The research, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, notes that in North America, 20 to 25 percent of women and 18 to 21 percent of men of reproductive age report daily psychological stress. But when it comes to how that stress affects fertility, women fare worse.
The study used data from Pregnancy Study Online, an ongoing preconception cohort of North American pregnancy planners that follows couples for one year or until pregnancy, whichever comes first. It tracked 4,769 women and 1,272 men who did not have a history of infertility and had not been trying to conceive for more than six menstrual cycles.
When the stress levels of the participants were measured, the researchers found that women who indicated they had higher levels of stress were less likely to conceive than those who reported lower levels. This correlation was even stronger in women under the age of 35.
The authors of the study did note, however, that increased stress levels could mean less frequent sex and irregular menstrual cycles, so there are a lot of factors at play here. And let's not forget that dealing with infertility itself can be a very stressful situation, making the whole thing one unfortunate cycle.
These are only preliminary and largely speculative findings, but they do offer some interesting and helpful insight into the link between stress and infertility — especially in women.