Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and Stress: How to Manage Your Symptoms
Stress is often called the silent killer — and for valid reasons. It is not a secret that stress can impact your emotional and mental health, but long-term stress can affect your physical health as well. Stress has been linked to an increased risk of heart conditions, diabetes, and mood disorders, along with worsening the symptoms of PCOS. Fortunately, stress is also something that can often be alleviated using proper stress management techniques, and being aware of your triggers can help lower your stress levels in the future.
What Causes Stress?
There are two types of stress, eustress, and distress. Eustress is the good or beneficial stress that can happen during positive experiences such as a vacation, promotion, or having a child. Distress is negative stress that can impact many areas of your health. The causes of stress vary from person to person and are subjective to one’s situations and circumstances. Stress can be triggered by several factors, a few of which are listed below.
- Living with a health condition or a chronic illness
- Witnessing or living through a natural or man-made disaster
- Having survived a life-threatening situation
- Being the victim of a traumatising incident or crime
- Dealing with familial issues and disturbances
- Caring for a person with a severe health disorder
- Working in a dangerous or stressful environment/profession
- Dealing with financial issues
- Having a poor work-life balance
Countless triggers can cause stress because every person has a different way of responding to situations. Regardless of the reason, stress can impact your quality of life and increase your risk of developing chronic health conditions.
Women have two adrenal glands situated at the top of each kidney that is responsible for producing stress hormones like cortisol along with adrenaline and sex hormones like DHEA and testosterone.
When under stress, whether physical or emotional, the adrenal glands secrete higher amounts of cortisol (stress hormone), which in turn increases the production of DHEA-S (a testosterone hormone produced only by adrenal glands).
Cortisol and DHEA-S combined can disrupt the balance of other hormones in the body, causing symptoms like acne, facial hair, irregular periods, chronic fatigue, hair loss from the scalp, and mood swings.
Insulin resistance followed by elevated levels of testosterone is the primary cause of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the percentage is about 70% of PCOS patients.
DHEA-S is mostly the only androgen found to be in an elevated quantity on the blood work carried out for PCOS women, the adrenal glands being the root cause and thus being known as Adrenal PCOS.
What Is Cortisol?
Cortisol is a glucocorticoid hormone produced and secreted by the adrenal glands. Glucocorticoids are steroid hormones that suppress inflammation throughout the tissues of the body and also control the metabolism in the liver, muscles, bones, and fat. They also affect the sleep-wake cycle.
Cortisol, renowned as the stress hormone, has a role to play in almost every organ and tissue of the body. It is responsible for several vital functions including
- Suppressing inflammation
- Regulating blood pressure and blood sugar
- Helping control the body’s use of carbs, fats, and proteins, thus regulating metabolism
- Regulating the body’s response to stress
- Helping regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle
It is essential to note that higher-than-normal or lower-than-normal levels of cortisol in the body can be quite harmful to health.
How To Lower Cortisol Levels
Exercising regularly is proven to reduce cortisol levels in the body, especially among the elderly and people with major depressive disorders.
Following good sleep hygiene and getting enough sleep is crucial to keeping your cortisol levels under control. Sleep deprivation can spike cortisol levels in the body and lead to impaired memory, weight gain, cardiac issues, and even premature ageing.
Mind-body practices like yoga, tai chi, and mindful meditation are effective stress busters. They can help lower the levels of cortisol and stress in the body, along with helping lower blood pressure and blood glucose levels.
Additionally, certain herbs and natural supplements like Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, Chamomile, and lemon balm are known to help reduce stress and cortisol levels.
Can Stress Make PCOS Worse?
Increased levels of androgens are a common hormonal imbalance associated with PCOS and the unpleasant symptoms women have to deal with. The ovarian production of androgens is mostly stimulated by excess insulin, however, the adrenal glands produce a significant amount of androgens too.
When the adrenal glands are activated due to stress, they contribute to the increased levels of androgens in the body.
Thus, high levels of stress can make your PCOS symptoms worse, putting you at a higher risk for chronic health conditions like prediabetes, diabetes, and even cancer.
How To Relieve Stress Naturally
A good workout is a stress-buster in itself. Good sleep hygiene is equally important and one of the best ways to reduce prolonged stress. Including mind-body practices like mindful meditation and yoga in your daily life will show visible signs of improvement in your stress levels and your PCOS symptoms.
While herbal teas and supplements like cannabidiol are known to help relieve stress, chronic stress requires you to make holistic changes to your lifestyle.
One of the best ways to relieve stress naturally is to spend time practising a hobby. For some, it may be spending time with nature, while others prefer reading, writing, painting, and the list of preferences is never-ending. The key to relieving stress is finding an activity to indulge in that interests you. This will help you divert your mind from any thoughts that are causing stress. Since you have shifted your focus to something interesting, your body is most likely to produce happy hormones, causing you to feel relieved and relaxed.
Talk To a PCOS Professional
Every person responds differently to stress, however, women with PCOS are more likely to experience greater amounts of stress due to the underlying hormonal imbalances in the body.
If you have been diagnosed with PCOS or are experiencing any symptoms, talking to an expert can help you address your concerns precisely.
Do not wait for symptoms to become evident and for your stress to become uncontrollable. Prevention is always better than finding a cure, and women with PCOS must be very cautious about their stress and cortisol levels.
Take Our Online Assessment To Get Started
Stress can be hard to deal with, and if combined with the troublesome symptoms of PCOS, it can greatly deteriorate the quality of life altogether. If you’re having trouble understanding your body, our online assessment will help you assess your condition and find the solutions to help you get back to leading a happy, normal life.
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