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Stress and PCOS are as cyclical as a Ferris Wheel at a carnival. Most of the time, we have our ways of managing it, but sometimes circumstances can build and build making it impossible to be able to hop off the ride. There are dozens of potential causes for stress in general, but even more so with womxn affected by a PCOS diagnosis.
First, let’s talk about the different types of stress. There are three main types, with numerous variables that stem from them.
The Three Main Types of Stress
Acute stress is like the stress that comes from a situation that gets your adrenaline pumping. You might experience this type of stress when someone jumps from around a corner and scares you or you avoid a car accident. It is the type of stress that can also come from fun, thrill-seeking experiences like riding a roller coaster or bungee jumping. It gets your heart racing, but after a short time, it all comes back to normal and you return to your state of homeostasis.
It is also important to note that severe acute stress is also a very real thing. This type of stress can stem from certain PTSD and CPTSD conditions that are triggered by certain situations but then your body returns to normal afterward.
Episodic Acute Stress
This type of stress is when you have frequent acute episodes of stress that stem from anxiety or situations like a high stress job. This describes a type of stress that happens frequently but does not have the same comorbidities or long term effects at Chronic Stress.
This is the type of stress that occurs frequently over a long period of time. People who have chronic stress are more likely to develop other concurrent physical and mental health issues that stem from the stress they face. In terms of stress and PCOS, this is the type of stress that women with PCOS face. It encompasses metabolic, inflammatory, oxidative and emotional stress which we will dig into and unpack in this post. The type of stress that most affects women with PCOS is metabolic stress which can lead to the other types of stress as well.
“Metabolic stress along with the other types of stress are the progenitors of severe long-term health implications, which exacerbate further the reproductive, metabolic and psychological derangements of the syndrome, leading to an endless cycle of chronic illness.”https://doi.org/10.1080/17446651.2017.1266250
The aforementioned quote also lends to why I feel PCOS should also be considered an autoimmune disease. However, we are here to discuss stress. Let’s dig deeper into oxidative stress…
What is Oxidative Stress?
According to PubMed, Oxidative stress is defined as, “… a disturbance in the balance between the production of reactive oxygen species (free radicals) and antioxidant defenses, is discussed in relation to its possible role in the production of tissue damage in diabetes mellitus.”
Why is it important to look at how free radicals are processed and expelled by the body? Because these free radicals build up in the system and congest how your hormones and body processes are intended to work. For women with PCOS, this includes excess testosterone, DHEA, thyroid hormone, insulin, and more.
When the body is not expelling free radicals, it stores in the fat tissues and can cause what we call “PCOS Belly,” or in other words, weight gain in the midsection, particularly below the belly button. They can store in other fat too, but they typically are most highly concentrated in the abdomen area.
Free radicals also interrupt processes such as insulin production and transport. This can cause what is called Insulin Resistance, (you can read more about IR here…). When the body has all of these free radicals floating around, it can cause pain, inflammation, bad cholesterol, acne, excess hair growth, male pattern baldness (losing hair from the scalp), chronic fatigue, adrenal exhaustion, brain fog, and other adverse issues.
How should we work on improving our oxidative stress? There are multiple ways.
Improve Your Diet
We quite literally ARE what we eat. Our cells are built from all of the food and supplements that we consume. This can either help to build healthy cells and organs or cause cells to die off. When we are eating highly inflaming foods, foods that we are sensitive to, or food that is high in sugar, carbs or are processed, we are choosing to continue to prolong all of the negative symptoms that we have.
It is important when we are diagnosed to allow ourselves to feel upset for a time, but we eventually have to switch from victim mentality to survivor mentality. For some, this might mean having more grace for yourself, for others it might mean that you need to totally overhaul your diet. You owe it to yourself to be honest with yourself about where you are in this process. It is not possible to cure PCOS, but there are a number of things we can do to manage the symptoms from the root causes to help improve our quality of life.
Manage Your Insulin Resistance
There are a few ways that you can work on improving your IR. Combining exercise with a better diet is a great start! For some, this might not be enough since PCOS is a metabolic issue that runs very closely parallel to Diabetes and Thyroid Issues. Often, a doctor’s way of managing PCOS is going to be putting you on Metformin and Birth Control. However, not all women want to turn to taking pharmaceuticals to manage their symptoms. I personally have tried Metformin, and it was NOT for me. Sadly, this is the case with a lot of women with PCOS, and since this is the traditional medicine way of treating PCOS, many women are left high and dry by their docs not knowing where to turn next. There are a few natural supplements that you can use to help repair the insulin transport system in the body which will help to make use of the insulin that your body produces.
- Myo and D-Chiro Inositol (I like the Wholesome Story brand from Amazon)
- Berberine (I like this brand from Amazon because it includes cinnamon)
- Cinnamon (I like this brand from Amazon)
My relationship with exercise is what I feel is pretty standard of women with PCOS. I used to enjoy it when I was younger, but throughout my mid-twenties, I gained weight and now I strongly dislike it. I WANT to love it, but I just don’t. If this sounds like you, then join the club 🙂 Exercise does not have to mean getting up at the crack of dawn to go to the gym before work. It can truly be as simple as taking a walk for 20-30 minutes, doing a yoga flow from YouTube, or downloading the Peloton App and doing some of their workouts on the floor in your living room. The key here is that you don’t want to do a high stress workout because overloading your adrenals can actually have an adverse effect on your stress levels when you have PCOS.
Melatonin Before Bed
I suggest starting by using Melatonin at night before bed. Melatonin not only helps to improve your sleep by increasing the brains ability to produce and uptake serotonin, but it also helps to reduce oxidative stress while you sleep. Getting deep sleep is imperative to healing the body and managing PCOS.
I like this brand of Melatonin and take 5mg per evening. Make sure that you have sufficient time to sleep before you need to be awake in the morning, because this supplement gets you into a deep sleep. I am really excited for you all to try Melatonin if you haven’t. It is truly the best sleep I ever get!
See a Therapist
In addition to supplements and lifestyle changes, you can work to improve your stress by seeing a counselor or therapist. Sadly, with the pandemic, it has been very difficult to secure an appointment as many therapists are currently carrying full caseloads of patients. There are a few online services, but I suggest beginning with your PCP and getting a list of therapists they recommend.
PRACTICE SELF CARE
This might seem like a no-brainer, but the number of women who do not have time to practice self care is crazy high! Self care looks different for everyone. For some, changing your diet might be self care. For others, taking a bath or getting a pedi might be just what the doctor ordered. For others still, journaling, spending time in nature, or cleaning your closets might be self care.
My definition of self care is: doing any task, hygienic process, utilizing creativity or skill, cleaning, or making necessary changes personally, physically, mentally, or spiritually with the intention of improving your quality of life.Danielle Holly of Modern Meditations Blog
I have said it before, and I’ll say it again… YOU DESERVE TO FEEL WELL. I am here to support you in the process. Lots of love to all of you 🙂