Regulating your nervous system for fertility.Nov 13, 2023
Our nervous system is basically the command centre of our body. It’s in charge of our movement, our thoughts, and our auto-responses.
And when we talk about our nervous system, I’m sure you’ve heard it enough times - stress isn’t particularly helpful when you’re trying to have a baby. It triggers our fight or flight response, which shuts down your rest, digest, and reproduction side of your nervous system. And when you’re trying to conceive, that is not what you want to be doing.
This is why people keep on telling you to just relax. Of course, that’s not helpful. So let me explain in a little more detail how our nervous system works, and how you can support it and your fertility at the same time.
When we’re talking about our nervous system, you may hear people refer to it as regulated or dysregulated. When we are in a fight or flight response, this is a dysregulated nervous system.
How do you know whether you’re in a dysregulated state?
While there are so many signs of dysregulation, whether it’s physically, mentally, or emotionally, here are a few of the symptoms you may be experiencing right now.
- Chronic tiredness or fatigue
- Brain fog or trouble concentrating
- Inability to relax
- Hypervigilance or worry
- Emotional volatility
- Low confidence/self-worth
- Frequent illness
- Gut issues
If you’re nodding to most of those, chances are you’re operating from a place of dysregulation. But before you start punishing yourself, here’s why.
What causes dysregulation?
- Chronic stress and trauma can cause your nervous system to become dysregulated. And when you’re going through infertility or experiencing pregnancy loss, it’s constant stress and trauma. In truth, we should say that infertility causes your nervous system to become dysregulated.
- Our emotions are energy in motion. When we try to suppress our emotions, it gets stored in the body and causes physiological responses including dysregulation. With our emotions, we either recycle them or release them. So, when we feel like crying, and push it down because we’re at work, we are recycling them, and they never have an opportunity to release.
- Perceived trauma. Our brain isn’t good at distinguishing between perceived and real threats. And when we experience trauma, in whatever form that is, our body stays on alert, collects data and stores it so it doesn’t happen again. So, if anything comes up at a later date that feels familiar, our body assumes it’s a threat, whether it’s real or not.
For example, say you suffer a pregnancy loss or an ectopic pregnancy. Our body stores that trauma. Which means that when you get a positive pregnancy test the next time, our body becomes dysregulated and you feel the anxiety coming up. Because even though your body is safe, it perceives a threat because this seems familiar. Your body will be on high alert, to prevent that traumatic experience from occurring again.
How do we regulate our nervous system?
Most of the nerves in our body, run from our body up to our brain. Only 20% of the messaging in our body actually runs from our brain, down to our body.
So that’s why when we’re triggered and are experiencing anxiety or fear, just telling ourselves to calm down, isn’t always that effective. Because only 20% of the messaging going from our brain to tell our body that it’s safe is getting through. Which means that 80% of our body is still in the stress response.
That’s why it’s important that we include somatic practices that focus on the body, when we’re triggered. Our nervous system doesn’t speak a verbal language. It responds to touch, to movement, to sound, and breath.
In order to show your body it is safe and can be present, here are some tools you can use to help bring your system back to a regulated state.
- Dancing or singing to music
- Breathing exercises
- Temperature changes – grab a bowl of ice water and dunk your face in it, holding ice cubes in your hands, or letting the water run cold at the end of your shower. Putting an icepack on the back of your neck is also very effective, because you have a vagus nerve at the base of your brain that runs to all your major organs, and when you activate that nerve, it helps to increase your vagal tone, which brings you back into a regulated state faster.
- Body tapping – if you have lots of swirling thoughts and an overactive mind, you can bring yourself back into your body by fisting your hands and tapping up and down your arms, chest and legs etc.
- Laying down and putting your legs up a wall – this is one of my favourites, because it opens up your chest, gets your blood flowing, and also helps communicate to the vagus nerve that it’s safe to start relaxing.
- Shake it out – this is just as it sounds. You start at your wrists, shake out your arms, then you can do your legs starting at your ankles, knees, and the whole leg. You can move to your hips and do a complete body shake, imagining that you’re shaking any stress out of your body.
Those are just a few exercises, however, we all have different nervous systems, so it’s about finding what works for you, through trial and error.
Now these are quick fixes, however, it’s also important to deal with the thing that is making you dysregulated in the first place. In terms of our emotions, instead of recycling them and pushing them down, we need to release them. We need to allow the emotions to flow. If you’re sad, cry. If you’re angry, scream into a pillow, or punch a punching bag. Another great way to release your emotions is to journal, or speak to a coach, therapist, or friend.
Developing a healthy nervous system.
There are also some things you can do to prevent dysregulation in the first place. I’ll refer to this as nervous system fitness. It’s important to understand however that a healthy nervous system isn’t calm all the time. A healthy nervous system is resilient and can respond to whatever is coming at us. We want to grow in our capacity, so we can experience the highs and the lows i.e. the infertility rollercoaster, without getting stuck there.
Here are 3 things you can do each day to help create a healthy nervous system -
- 10 minutes of stillness without stimulation – laying down, meditating, laying with your legs up the wall, or praying. If this is a little too difficult, you can build up to 10 minutes. And remember, this is not about clearing your mind, but it’s about not getting stuck in the thoughts.
- 10 minutes of movement – it doesn’t have to be anything intensive, just stretching, or yoga, or walking.
- 10 minutes of play – i.e. things that are enjoyable for you. This could be cooking, doing a puzzle, reading, pottery, drawing etc.
It’s important however that you don’t punish yourself or get weighed down with guilt because your nervous system is dysregulated. Given the fast pace of life these days, most of us suffer from chronic stress. And you’re dealing with infertility on top of that. So please give yourself a little grace.
Would you like to know more about how you can work with me, so you can get back control of your life and start moving forward? My 1:1 coaching program is packed with information, tools and support. Find out how you can get on the wait list now.
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