Psychological Stress and Male Infertility
Managing Stress Could Improve Male Fertility
You probably know that stress can have some negative effects on your health. That missed deadline at work can trigger a pounding headache. Worrying about a sick family member might keep you awake all night. And an unexpected car repair bill can leave a queasy feeling in your stomach.
Stress might have an effect on your fertility as well. While the scientific data isn’t firm, several studies have suggested a link between stress and male infertility.
For example, research has shown that stress may lead to a decline in testosterone, a hormone needed for sperm production.
Research also suggests that men under stress may have poorer semen quality. That means that sperm cells aren’t well-formed and could have trouble swimming and fertilizing an egg cell.
While day-to-day stress is difficult enough, the situation can become compounded if you and your partner have been trying to conceive for a while.
Fertility treatment is complex. You’re juggling appointments with specialists and opening up about a very personal part of your life. You and your partner are likely having emotional ups and downs - feeling sad, optimistic, frustrated, disappointed, hopeful, sometimes in a short period of time.
What can you do? It’s easy for us to say “relax.” But that could be one of the keys to increase your chances of conceiving.
We can’t stop stressful events from happening. But we can control how we react to them. Here are some time-tested stress management strategies that may also work for you:
Put a positive spin on it. If you can, reframe the way you view a problem. Is there a way to turn a negative into a positive? Can you break down a problem into small steps and handle them one at a time? Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can.
Try perspective-building activities. You may have heard the expression, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and remember… it’s ALL small stuff.” Well, built into disciplines such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi, are exercises that help put the challenges of everyday life into perspective. These activities might help release you from the thought patterns that can lead to unproductive stress. Even just listening to music you enjoy may help transport you to a place where you can view challenges from a fresh perspective.
Participate in activities you enjoy. When you’re involved in activities that bring you joy, it also helps put stress in perspective, or at least puts stress on the back burner. Contemplating fun activities gives you something to look forward to and to reflect back on and has the effect of pushing stress-inducing thoughts to the side. It’s important to find out what brings you peace and happiness and incorporate it in your routine.
Take care of your relationship. You and your partner are a team, not just in your desire to have a child, but in all that you do. Providing the support to your partner that you would hope to receive from her helps you each shield one another from stress-inducing events.
Take care of yourself. It’s easy to let self-care slide when you’re feeling stressed. Make sure you’re eating right, getting enough sleep, and exercising. Exercising regularly is a good way to manage anxiety and depression, too (it impacts brain chemistry). It’s important to limit your use of alcohol or recreational drugs because they have a harmful impact on your physical and emotional health over time and can themselves become stress agents.
Ask for help. Recognize that you may not be able to do everything yourself and there’s no shame in asking for a hand. If your work schedule or responsibilities are too demanding, see if you can adjust your hours or delegate some of your work. The same applies to activities outside of work. See if there is a way to get some help with your to-do list. Even handing off simple chores such as running errands or home maintenance tasks can help reduce your stress levels.. Try not to overextend yourself and feel free to say “no” if someone is asking too much of you – or if you find you’re asking too much of yourself.
Reach out to others. Confiding in a trusted friend or relative may bring comfort, and that person might have insight for dealing with a stress-inducing problem that would otherwise been unobtainable. Support groups, where you can share insights with others experiencing similar challenges, may also be available to you, or to you and your partner.
See a professional. Therapists can help us see our lives with a new perspective. If you find that your stress levels are escalating or tough to manage, seeing a counselor is a wise choice. An objective third party can make suggestions you might not have thought of. If you’d like to see a therapist, let us know. We can refer you to a local professional.
We can’t guarantee that stress management will improve fertility, but taking good care of yourself during this difficult time will produce benefits for you and your partner. Together, you’ll be able to handle what comes next.
American Heart Association
“3 Tips to Manage Stress”
(Last reviewed: June 7, 2017)
“Stress linked to male fertility”
(May 30, 2014)
“Learn to manage stress”
(Reviewed: October 7, 2018)
National Institute for Mental Health
“5 Things You Should Know About Stress”
Nature Reviews Urology
Nargund, Vinod H.
“Effects of psychological stress on male fertility”
(Abstract. Published: June 9, 2015)
Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology
Ilacqua, Alessandro, et al.
“Lifestyle and fertility: the influence of stress and quality of life on male fertility”
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health
“Stress degrades sperm quality, study shows”
(News release. May 29, 2014)
“Keep Your Relationship Strong During Infertility Treatments”
(October 2, 2019)