HERE’S HOW STRESS ACTUALLY IMPACTS PCOS:
We hear all the time that stress can make our PCOS symptoms worse (or even cause PCOS symptoms) but I feel like the majority of us struggle to understand what that really means.
That’s because stress can have many different faces and the ones we always thinks of: difficult relationships, big changes, work, etc are just the tip of the iceburg for a chronic condition like PCOS.
Think of it like this: your body is a container that can hold a certain amount of stress. It’s resilient and literally made to withstand some difficulties, but it has a limit.
When our containers are filled up with regular life stresses (and in modern life there are many) it may be hard but it usually won’t tip us over the edge. But in PCOS, we may have containers that are already filled up 50% or more with subtle, physiological forms of stress that make it much easier for these daily stressors to impact our symptoms.
So what can those subtle stressors look like?
Well, often they are things our PCOS is either caused by or causes- things like food sensitivities, insulin resistance, gut health issues, nutrient deficiencies. They can also be inherited things like trauma, genetics, generational traumas, etc. I’ll add a graphic below that I made that illustrates this.
Stress is also important because it can make things like insulin resistance worse.
Our bodies store a sugar called glycogen in our muscles for a rainy day. When our sugars get low OR when our body goes into a fight or flight state, we release that sugar into our bloodstream to help give us energy to combat or run. This is a primal stress response.
The problem in PCOS is that we already walk a bit of a trip wire with cortisol and other stress hormones, so we are more likely to produce it in response to daily anxieties and therefore, more likely to have blood sugar swings that have nothing to do with our diets.
One of the major triggers for this response is actually not eating enough or long periods of fasting in a person really sensitive to stress.
Getting to the root of PCOS stress isn’t just about taking more bubble baths or eating a better diet. It’s a blend of lifestyle changes, self care, mindfulness, boundaries, and lots of other things. It’s different for everyone and should be targeted to your unique version of stress.
One thing we do know helps a ton is some form of daily mindfulness practice- whether that be a movement version or a meditative version. This can look like different things but the main focus is simply being completely present in the moment.
Personally, I practice mindfulness by knitting, spending time in my garden, and above all, learning to say no to things that don’t serve me. As a lifelong people pleaser, battling with my own perceive “selfishness” in taking time for me has been a journey but one of the most rewarding I’ve ever undertaken. The feeling of a calm and stable nervous system (even when it can feel like the world around me is so chaotic) is so incredible, I deeply hope you will find that place for yourself.