Have you been feeling a bit different, or ‘off,’ lately? Do you find yourself feeling worried, fearful, panicked, or stressed for no concrete reason? Is your mental energy eroded by thoughts of irrational events or concerns that you can’t help but fixate on?
Whether you’ve gone through a significant life change or not, anxiety can be difficult to talk about. Especially if the source of the anxiety isn’t anything in particular, but instead an ever-present, nagging voice at the front of your mind. Know that in any case: you are not alone. .
Having said that, you have probably thought about the question as to why: why are you feeling down and anxious? What is causing your body to experience these dips in your mood?
Unfortunately, when it comes to both our physical and mental health, it can be difficult to pin down a root cause. That’s why in the course of this article, we’re going to discuss what we know anxiety does to the mind and the body, how PCOS can affect anxiety, and most importantly how to reduce your anxiety.
What Is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?
First, let’s quickly dive into what PCOS is.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, better known as PCOS, is a common condition that affects hormones and/or cycle regularity in women of all ages.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome can cause irregular periods, excessive hair growth in unwanted areas, acne, and infertility. Treatment for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) will depend on a variety of factors, including your lifestyle, long-term health goals, and if you are planning to get pregnant in the near future.
PCOS may sound scary and difficult to treat, but with the proper care and lifestyle changes, it can be manageable and cut down on symptoms that may be causing discomfort and struggles on the body.
As you navigate the topic of PCOS and anxiety, it’s useful to explore some treatment options to help you better cope! Here are a few facts about Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome to give you more insight into this condition and the physical and psychological impact it can have on anxiety:
PCOS in All Ages
Women and girls of all ages can express symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome - signs can show as early as childhood and before menarche, and persist after menopause. However, it is most often diagnosed and identified when trying to get pregnant.
Some of the most common symptoms of PCOS include irregular periods, acne, weight gain, excessive hair growth in unwanted areas, skin tags, darkening spots on your skin, cysts on your ovaries, and infertility. All of these symptoms can be distressing and upsetting, contributing to depression and anxiety for women who display them.
PCOS is a common health problem caused by an imbalance of reproductive hormones. The hormonal imbalance creates problems issues in the ovaries, which makes the egg that is released each month as part of a healthy menstrual cycle. However, with PCOS, the egg may not develop as it should or may not be released during ovulation.
First line treatment for the imbalances and inflammation that drives PCOS is diet and lifestyle change, such as improving nutrition, physical activity, sleep, and stressors. Medications and targeted supplementation can also be used to treat the condition and its symtoms.
PCOS has a hereditary component. A study has shown that women have a mother who has PCOS (roughly ¼ of these women), and roughly ⅓ of women who have a sister with PCOS. Additionally, it shares common genes with other conditions, like type 2 diabetes, which is often seen in male relatives.
What Does Anxiety Do To Your Body?
Anxiety is a feeling of fear, dread, and uneasiness in the body. It can cause you to sweat, feel restless and tense, have rapid heartbeats, and overeat.
Some people face anxiety daily, while others may just have moments of anxious feelings that can help them get things done properly. Those who struggle with stress and tension can find their symptoms and struggles to be debilitating and can hold them back from daily activities that are needed to be performed.
Here are different types of anxiety disorders in the body.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – With GAD, people tend to worry about everyday issues, such as health, money, work, and family. These worries are more constant and can last up to six months straight.
- Panic Disorders -- People with panic disorder also suffer from panic attacks, which can be sudden and last several minutes or even more.
- Phobias – People who suffer from phobias will have an intense fear of something that actually poses no threat of actual danger. A few examples include heights, spiders, flying, or going into crowded places.
As your body is experiencing signs of stress and tension, it goes through several different changes. Let’s discuss some of the most common physical symptoms that your body may go through when dealing with anxiety.
- Racing Heart: Your brain receives stress signals and triggers your adrenal glands to produce adrenaline and cortisol. As these hormones are released, your heart responds by increasing your heart rate.
- Shortness of Breath: When your body experiences stress, it responds by providing more oxygen to your body so that you can receive more blood. The increase of oxygen can cause the opposite effect on your body and cause shortness of breath.
- Chronic Exhaustion: When your body produces stress hormones when you feel anxious, your body will stay in a constant state of high alert. This will cause you to feel more tired and exhausted.
- Poor Sleep: You may struggle to fall asleep, stay asleep, or wake up and feel more anxiety and stress throughout the night. Cortisol and adrenaline will keep your body from resting properly.
- Achy Muscles: While your body is feeling stressed, it keeps you in a constant fight or flight situation, leaving your body feeling tired and achy.
- Stomach Discomfort: Anxiety is directly linked to the gastrointestinal (GI) system, and the more anxious you feel, the more discomfort in your stomach. Side effects may arise, including discomfort, diarrhea, constipation, and other GI issues.
- Poor Immunity: As your body is busy fighting stress and tension, or maybe not getting restful and adequate sleep, it can burden the immune system which can cause more colds and illness.
How To Reduce The Effects of Anxiety and PCOS?
Research has shown that women facing the everyday struggles associated with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) -- including weight gain, excessive hair growth, acne, and fertility issues – can experience negative mood changes, lowered self esteem, and worsened body image struggles. Additionally, the general systemic inflammation and worsened gut health have both been associated with a greater disposition to experience anxiety.
Keep in mind that if any of the above applies to you, you are not alone. Many PCOS symptoms, not limited to acne, hair loss, hirsutism, and others, can have a profound psychological impact and trigger feelings of stress and shame.
Though it is easier said than done, any time you encounter a denigrating, negative thought - whether it be about your appearance or your health - be conscious of it. That is the first step to undoing negative feedback loops that only worsen your mental health. Next, replace that negative thought with a positive one.
As opposed to, for instance, focusing on a feature of your physical appearance you don’t like, actively note things you do like about yourself. This does not need to be limited to the physical: what are your best traits? What are you proud of? You are so much more than your appearance. Think of positive things about yourself, and repeat those affirmations daily.
Next, to help with an uplifted and stabilized mood, consider incorporating some exercise to your day-to-day. Exercise has many benefits as it is good for your physical and mental health while helping to ease some of your PCOS symptoms.
Unfortunately, it is not a quick and easy fix for women facing PCOS and anxiety. You may feel too nervous or anxious to leave your house, go to the grocery store to shop for nourishing foods, or get a proper support system to guide you through the process.
Choose a doctor specializing in hormonal health that will run the proper bloodwork to determine what your body is lacking and help balance your hormones. Also choose a doctor who you feel truly listens to you.
Surround yourself with a support network - whether that be through online forums, social media, or in-person groups, that understands your struggles and validates your feelings. If managing your PCOS and its symptoms are not easing your anxiety, or at any time you need extra support, reach out to your medical provider to get connected with a mental health counselor or therapist.
PCOS can and does affect women both physically and emotionally. Unfortunately, PCOS can greatly affect your mood, sleep, body image, friendships, and overall health. There have been many correlations made between women suffering from PCOS and anxiety.
Anxiety can feel utterly debilitating at times.And though there is no quick fix, keep in mind that there are so many options to manage your PCOS-related anxiety.
Here at Allara Health, we specialize in treating PCOS in a holistic way. That means focusing on the physical, emotional, and psychological impact it can have on your health, and finding treatment options that work for your lifestyle, values, and goals. To begin tackling anxiety and PCOS, as well as other PCOS symptoms, consider joining our community or signing up for our PCOS medical and nutrition program. It is as easy as logging in, signing up, and connecting with your new healthcare professional.
Once a relationship is established between you and your new health care professional, a plan will get set into place, and you can get back to all the beautiful things life has to offer. Life is short… live it the best and healthiest you can!
Allara Health provides personalized treatment for hormonal, metabolic & gynecological conditions that utilizes a holistic plan that merges nutrition, lifestyle, medication and supplementation, and ongoing, expert support to heal your body.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS): What Is It, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment | Cleveland Clinic
What Anxiety Does to Your Body: 7 Common Physical Symptoms | Harrington HealthCare System