Can stress impact my ability to conceive?
Practical ways to reduce stress to support progesterone - the "pro-gestation" hormone
Originally written for, The Bump Plan - TTC
Progesterone! If you’re trying to conceive, you’re probably becoming very familiar with this hormone. And if you’re not, let’s have a lil introduction. Progesterone is the hormone that dominates the second part of our cycle after ovulation. And with it being our “pro-gestation” hormone it’s a real key player when it comes to trying to get pregnant.
Progesterone will help to plump out the lining in your uterus making it an ideal environment for pregnancy. It will also slow down digestion to help draw out as many nutrients as possible (this is why you can get constipated post ovulation!), as well as supporting our mood and keeping us calm, rather than stressy and PMS-y
So why does everyone talk about reducing stress when trying to conceive? Cortisol is one of our stress hormones. Sometimes it gets a bad rep, but it’s a brilliant hormone that has kept us alive and out of sticky situations for thousands of years. But like anything in life, we don’t want too much of it. Especially if we are trying to conceive.
If you were to look at progesterone and cortisol on a molecular level, it’s like playing a game of spot the difference. Progesterone is the precursor to cortisol, and they have the same building blocks. What this means for you is your body will always prioritise stress hormone production to keep you out of danger. So if your stress levels/cortisol spikes, your body will compromise its progesterone production and cause it to decrease. Basically, cortisol goes up, progesterone goes down
So how can low progesterone levels show up in your menstrual cycle?
Short luteal phase – in an ideal menstrual cycle we would want your luteal phase (from ovulation to your period) to be about 12-14 days in length. Anything 10 days or less you would want to support your progesterone and you can start by reducing stress
Pre-menstrual spotting – your period should have a very clear start. Spotting pre-period on can be a sign your progesterone needs a boost
Seeing creamy or lotion like cervical fluid post ovulation – if you’ve been observing your cervical fluid after ovulation you wouldn’t expect to see it anymore
PMS – Progesterone can have a very calming effect on the brain, so if you have less of it, it can leave you feeling strung out and emotional for a few days or longer before your period would arrive
Now reading this might make you feel worried about your progesterone levels, but the fantastic news is there are loads of things you can do to improve them! Diet and sleep play an important role, but today we are going to really focus on that stress element
When I work with clients I always ask them these questions to reflect on what their average week looks like. I would love you to have a think about them too:
If you were thinking about the pace of your life, how would you describe it?
Eg. Very active, always going to an event/social, a bit slower if you’re working from home now, maybe it’s your mind that is very fast, rather than physically running around?
The pace of your life really sets the tone for your cortisol levels. If you never have a moment to stop and slowing down feels really uncomfortable, you’re likely to be running on stress hormones. If this is you, we want to focus on how we can bring down the pace even by just 1%. I’m all about being realistic. If you’re used to being very busy, suddenly changing your lifestyle to practicing meditation for 10 hours a day probably isn’t practical, nor sustainable. So where can you pull back? Where can you create a bit more physical and mental space in your life? Even by the tiniest fraction?
When you feel stressed how does that show up for you?
It’s really important to notice how you experience stress. Being able to recognise and name our experience can help us to know where we are at and what strategies we may need to implement. Which leads us to the next question
How do you like the relax and unwind?
In my opinion, relaxation is so underestimated. It’s something we all know is important, buts it’s so easy to let relaxation activities go under the radar. So what helps you to destress? Maybe a good book, getting out in nature, a cinema trip. Or perhaps moving your body and getting a sweat on. Take some time to get to know what helps your mind to unwind and make sure you’re getting these into your week as often as you can!
Do you find it easy to relax?
I think it’s also important to recognise that relaxation is one of those, “easy to say, harder to do” things. But think of it like learning something new. To begin with it can feel tricky and uncertain, but the more you practice, the easier it can get. Start small, I mean really small. Just a few minutes a day, and slowly build more time for you into your dailiness
How do you rest?
I think of rest and relaxation as two different things. For example, I have clients who use exercise to manage stress, which helps them relax. And that’s brilliant! There are obviously so many benefits to regular exercise. But if you are solely dependent on exercise to manage stress, you could be raising those cortisol levels and compromising your progesterone production.
We want to switch things up a bit and add a bit of stillness where we can. Think of it as actively engaging in rest outside of sleep! Things you can simply YouTube (could be listening to a yoga nidra meditation, yogic sleep), try some restorative yoga or some self-massage (try my sleep school!). Or if you can, book yourself in for some reflexology or acupuncture. Both of which are brilliant at switching off that stress response and supporting your fertility
That being said, I appreciate for some people, finding complete stillness or activities like meditation can be extremely difficult. If this is you then we want to think about things that aren’t physically going to activate you but will calm your mind. You may have heard about getting lost in a “flow state” and things like Lego or jigsaws can be a perfect mindful activity
So now you’ve taken the time to consider these things, I would absolutely love it if, where you can, you schedule these things into your diary the way you would a work meeting. Give it the same priority level and stick with it. Within even a few days people begin to feel more at ease, and over your coming cycles you may even notice those signs of low progesterone improve!