When it doesn’t happen very quickly, trying to get pregnant can put a lot of stress on a couple. And, in a kind of cruel irony, stress itself also seems to reduce a woman’s odds of becoming pregnant.

Women who are stressed, but otherwise healthy, have a lower fertility rate than their unstressed counterparts, according to a new study. The good news, the authors say, is that finding ways to manage your stress before you try to get pregnant can significantly improve the odds of conceiving.

Higher levels of the stress hormone alpha-amyloid were linked to a 30% reduced chance of becoming pregnant.

Reducing stress has already been shown to help women undergoing in vitro fertilization, or IVF. So it makes sense that it would also improve women's chances of conceiving conventionally.

Researchers at the Ohio State University College of Medicine followed 500 women, ages 18 to 40, who were starting to try to become pregnant. They measured levels of two stress hormones – cortisol and alpha-amylase – in samples of saliva at the beginning of the study. Then they followed the women for one year, or until they became pregnant.

Building on their previous work, the researchers found that cortisol levels weren’t linked to fertility or infertility, but higher levels of alpha-amyloid levels were linked to a 30% reduced chance of becoming pregnant. And the women with higher alpha-amyloid levels were also twice as likely to meet the clinical definition of infertility – not getting pregnant for 12 months.

“…[W]omen with high levels of…alpha-amylase have a lower probability of becoming pregnant, compared to women with low levels of this biomarker,” study author Courtney Lynch said in a statement. “For the first time, we've shown that this effect is potentially clinically meaningful, as it's associated with a greater than two-fold increased risk of infertility among these women. ”

Lynch says that methods like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness may all be very helpful in reducing stress. It’s a matter of finding the right option for you, since people respond differently to each method.

Reducing stress isn't just for people who are having difficulty getting pregnant. “Eliminating stressors before trying to become pregnant might shorten the time couples need to become pregnant,” said lead author Germaine Buck Louis.

So, whether you and your partner are beginning to feel frustrated in your efforts to get pregnant or just starting to try, you need to manage your stress level. Exercise. Slow down. Take a walk in the evening or find another strategy to manage stress.

And if you’re not able to find an effective method on your own, talk with your doctor or mental healthcare provider — in fact, sometimes talk therapy can be a good way to work through the stress.

The study is published in the journal Human Reproduction.