PCOS and stress are a great team!
Stress is a word I heard people use all the time in my younger days.
It was something I thought I couldn’t have because I didn’t work more than 40 hours a week, my home life was peaceful, and I mostly did what was enjoyable to me.
So how could I possibly be stressed?
Stress is so much more than the image I carried in my head of the frazzled parent with 5 kids running circles around them or the lawyer working 60+ hours a week.
You will get the same physical/hormonal response in your body if you are a person above or if you are worrying/anxious about something that hasn’t even happened.
To get deeper into this stress response, check out my older stress posts here:
- Stress and The Body
- Categories of Stress
- Stress-Free Living in 5 Steps
- Foods For An Anti-Stress Life
Beyond what I discuss in the above articles and videos, chronic stress leads to blood sugar issues.
This is one way PCOS and stress are linked.
PCOS, Stress & Blood Sugar
When your body is under stress, excess glucose is released in the bloodstream to give the body more quick energy with which to work.
The work in this case being running or fighting.
The stress response is ancient.
It was meant to help us with dangerous animals and other survival scenarios.
While our lives have changed, our stress response has not.
The extra blood sugar was to give us the energy we needed to run away fast or stay and fight.
In most cases, this is no longer the case.
Stress can come to us in the car where we are totally immobile, at work if we feel we are not appreciated, with family if they say hurtful things…
The list is infinite because we each have different stressors throughout our lives.
Needless to say, the extra glucose then goes back to the inflammation discussed in this previous article.
PCOS, Stress & Cortisol
During the stress response, cortisol is produced and secreted from the adrenal glands (endocrine glands located just above the kidneys.)
In the case of PCOS and stress, cortisol basically shuts down reproduction.
- Decreases the hormone responsible for the beginning of the hormonal cascade that leads to ovulation;
- Inhibits FSH and LH production which are needed for ovulation;
- Makes ovaries more resistant to FSH and LH, in case any makes it through I guess;
- Blocks maturation of follicles in the ovaries;
- Blocks progesterone receptors needed for hormone balance, regular menstrual cycles, and gestation.
That is a brutal list.
Cortisol is highly effective at its job.
It has been found that for unknown reasons, people with PCOS seem to be more sensitive to cortisol, so all of the above is exaggerated.
One last nugget about cortisol:
When the body is under stress, the adrenal glands increase the release of hormones that will protect the brain from the increased levels of cortisol circulating in the blood.
These hormones (DHEA, DHEAS, and androstenedione) then unfortunately contribute to PCOS and its symptoms.
Stress is not good for any body, but as shown above, can aggravate the symptoms of PCOS even further.
That being said, you have control over the majority of stressors in your life.
Of course there will be things in your life you cannot control that contribute to the stress in your body, but there are things you can control. That is what you can focus on.
The best description of stress that I have heard is that it is our response to events, situations, words… in our life.
Some triggers will cause a similar reaction in a lot of people, and some circumstances will be very personal to you.
How To Alter a Stress Response
In any case, the first step will be simply noticing when you are in a heightened stress response.
Note the trigger, how it feels in your body and where you feel it in your body, any emotions that come up, and if you can, the things you tell yourself while it’s happening.
The idea is to get curious about your response and what caused it.
Some are very subtle. The stress response can be brought on simply with a thought.
For example, you work 8-4. You notice it is 3:45 and you didn’t get as much work done as you had planned.
This can lead to a stress spiral where you give meaning to this event – you make it mean something about yourself.
Your thoughts could be saying: “I am lazy, just like mum always said.” “I will never get what I want because I just cannot ever work hard enough.” “I am stupid.” “Maybe I am just not cut out for this job…what if the boss finds out I suck at this…they will for sure fire me…and how will I pay rent…”
Does this sound familiar?
This brings on that very primal stress response every damn time it happens.
And this happens in a matter of seconds.
Sadly, people can go their whole lives not knowing this is even happening, let alone change it.
But not you! You are here for a reason and a purpose!
Begin to note these reactions in a physical notebook or on your phone.
Honestly, sometimes all you need to do is shine a light on the trigger and response for it to change.
That is exciting!
There are others that are more deep seated and will take more effort to release, but that’s good too because you will learn a lot about yourself while doing this work.
Now that you have a list of triggers and reactions, work through the actual triggers to see if there is something you can change to avoid the trigger.
A simple example is when I used to drive to work. I was getting so upset and anxious and it was starting to melt into the rest of my life.
I decided to try biking instead. It immediately felt better.
I understand not all triggers can be avoided, or even should be, but for little things that maybe you do not need to do, this is perfect.
Then you can start working on the harder triggers – why does this situation make me feel this way? When was the last time I felt this way? Where else in my life does this feeling come up?
This may be a time when you want to seek the guidance of a professional.
Mental health is so important yet undernourished in the culture in which we live.
There could be some deep issues that need a light shined on them before moving forward.
At the same time, you can be working on calming an over-excited stress response.
The moment you feel all the tell-tale signs of stress that you listed, you can bring your awareness into your body.
Bring your awareness to your reaction with curiosity and an open mind rather than keeping it spiraling in the thoughts.
You can take a step back – it isn’t easy, but you can. And luckily it gets easier the more you practice.
Maybe bring your awareness to the specific reaction/sensations you have in your body.
If that is too much, the breath is very calming, so bring your attention to your breath.
Try to make each breath a little longer and a little deeper.
You can try counting to 10, slowly.
All of these things are meant to take you out of the reaction.
They put a space between you and the stress response, which is where all of your power lies!
Once you have that calm energy, you can begin to tell yourself all of the loving things that are the opposite to what you may have been saying:
- I am safe and protected
- I am worthy, enough
- I am smart and creative
Make these statements as personal and meaningful to you as possible.
Once you notice the physical sensations of the stress response subsiding, pat yourself on the back!
Each time you do this and don’t give in to your thoughts, you are changing your brain – but that’s a bigger topic for another day!
Other Practices for Destressing
There are many practices that will help you bring calm back into your body and they can be as personal and individual as you.
All of these techniques are meant to calm the nervous system and make your body feel safe once again, so that could be talking to a friend for some and it could mean curling up in a blanket and being alone for others.
The most important part is that you are bringing peace back into your beautiful body.
If any of the below sound useless to you, definitely pass on them. Do what works for you.
This is a big one. It can be as simple or as complicated as you want. The most simple way to meditate is to bring your attention to your breath. You can count or pay attention to the sensations your in breath and out breath makes. You can listen to a guided meditation or music or be in total silence.
The key is what feels good to you.
I learned a few new movement/dancing techniques recently that have helped me release stress and anger. The idea is to move your body in ways that make you feel like you are moving energy around.
- Shaking – this is just shaking out that body! Arms, legs, butt, head. Put on a good tune and just shake it all!
- Rage dancing – put on an angry song and stomp, punch the air, punch your bed or pillows, scream into those pillows. Move in ways that release that pent up anger/stress. This is kind of how prey animals release their stress after being chased by a predator. They kick and jump and shake…and then they are on their merry way.
After I do these dances, I feel tired and more centered.
Try them and see if they work for you – or try something totally different!
I have heard that crying is the fastest way for cortisol to leave the body. It doesn’t need to be broken down or filtered, it just leaves the body in tears.
I know that after a really good cry, I am in a calmer state than I was before.
Crying yourself to sleep is a thing for a reason. The body is ready to rest and rejuvenate.
I understand that it is not something everyone can just do whenever, so the next technique may help you get there.
Most of the breathwork sessions I do involve crying and screaming. I suggest it if you have a lot to release.
This goes with the movement/dance point. Move that energy, blood, and lymph around the body. It makes it easier for it to then leave the body.
Reading, cuddling or playing with a pet/child, talking it out with someone, journaling, going for a walk outside, singing, playing an instrument, screaming into a pillow, crafting, going on a bike ride or run, workout…The list is endless.
PCOS and stress are great friends.
Stress makes PCOS worse and, like inflammation, PCOS can make stress worse.
The key is being aware of this connection and then noticing our response to stress as it shows up.
The great thing is that we can learn to observe our stress response instead of becoming a part of it.
Try as we might, stress is all around us.
It is in comments said by others; out on the streets – driving, walking, cycling; in our homes; the foods we eat if we are sensitive to them; and even in our thoughts.
Instead of trying to escape it, we can learn to notice it, work through it, and release it.
Our lives and our bodies will be much better for it.
Here are the links to all the other articles from the PCOS Series:
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Yours in plant love,