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5 Tips for Relieving Stress With PCOS

Medically reviewed by Paul Ballas, D.O.
Posted on May 7, 2024

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder among women of reproductive age, according to Mayo Clinic. It’s characterized by irregular menstrual cycles, infertility, excessive hair growth, acne, and weight gain. PCOS is a complex condition that not only impacts your physical health but also affects your mental well-being and levels of stress.

If you have PCOS, understanding the relationship between PCOS and stress may help you better manage the condition and improve your quality of life.

The Connection Between PCOS and Stress

Studies have found a bidirectional relationship between PCOS and stress. This means that not only can PCOS lead to increased stress levels due to its symptoms and associated health complications, but stress can also worsen PCOS symptoms.

People with PCOS often report higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression as compared to those without the condition. There are many reasons for this. The physical manifestations of PCOS, such as weight gain and acne, can affect self-esteem and body image, and the emotional burden of dealing with a chronic health condition can all cause stress.

Stress can impact PCOS through various pathways in the body. Chronic stress leads to the overproduction of cortisol, a hormone that can interfere with insulin regulation and potentially worsen insulin resistance, a key feature of PCOS. Insulin resistance, in turn, can lead to weight gain and make it more challenging to lose weight, creating a vicious cycle that worsens PCOS symptoms.

5 Tips for Managing Stress To Ease PCOS Symptoms

Given the connection between stress and PCOS, managing stress can be an important part of your PCOS treatment plan. Many different coping strategies can help you manage your stress levels. Keep reading for some stress management techniques to try if you’re living with PCOS.

1. Exercise

Exercising causes the body to release feel-good chemicals called endorphins that help reduce feelings of stress. Engaging in exercise may be difficult if you have symptoms such as pain and fatigue, but you don’t need to exercise very intensely or for a long period of time to realize benefits.

The National Institute of Mental Health suggests that 30 minutes of walking each day can help to improve mood. If 30 minutes feels like too long, start with a shorter duration and slowly increase. Make sure to talk to your health care provider before starting any new exercise routine. They can help you determine what exercises are safe for you or refer you to a physical therapist.

In addition to improving mood and reducing stress, physical activity can help lower your blood sugar levels and manage insulin resistance with PCOS.

2. Try Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques such as meditation and mindfulness are useful for reducing stress and managing chronic disease. They help by calming your body and mind, allowing you to organize your thoughts, and instilling a sense of inner peace. Meditation and mindfulness are also low-cost and relatively easy to incorporate into your daily life.

Mayo Clinic suggests several techniques for relaxation and stress relief, like:

  • Meditation
  • Guided imagery
  • Visualization
  • Deep-breathing techniques

Digital apps such as Headspace and Calm are popular resources for different types of meditation to improve mental wellness. Other relaxation techniques — like yoga or tai chi — incorporate movement. Different classes and tutorials can be found online or at local fitness centers.

3. Consider Your Stressors and Set Boundaries

Many sources of stress are out of our control, such as a family tragedy or a natural disaster. There are, however, other stressors that we do have some level of control over. One of the most useful tools for stress management is the process of identifying your stressors, realizing what you can and cannot control, and establishing personal boundaries.

First, make a list of things that cause you stress or worry. Next, ask yourself which of these things you have direct control over (like preparing dinner or making weekend plans) and which ones you don’t (like a winter storm or economic changes).

As you assess the items on your list, cross out the things that you don’t have control over. For the remaining items — those you do have control over — ask yourself some questions:

  • Is it necessary that I complete all of these tasks?
  • Do I need to complete all of these tasks today, or even this week?
  • Is it reasonable to ask family or friends for help with these tasks?

Additionally, learning how to say no to requests or tasks can help you manage your stress. You have a limited amount of time and energy each day, and managing a chronic disease like PCOS might further limit your capacity. Prioritize doing things that are important to you, and consider saying no to things for which you do not have the time, energy, or interest.

4. Improve Your Sleep Hygiene

Getting quality sleep is important for managing stress. Unfortunately, it can be difficult if you have PCOS or other health conditions.

The following are some tips for improving your sleep:

  • Avoid electronic devices, such as phones and computers, before bed.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and large meals several hours before bed.
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Keep a consistent sleep and wake schedule.

5. Seek Professional Help

Sometimes, the stress of life with PCOS can become overwhelming, and it’s OK to seek professional help if you feel like you need it. If stress starts to interfere with your daily life and responsibilities, and your stress-management techniques aren’t enough to help you, it might be time to reach out to a counselor, therapist, or doctor.

Counselors and therapists often help people when their burden of psychological stress has become too heavy. They can provide professional advice and practical tools to help you manage stress. Your health care provider may be a great resource for managing stress. They might have helpful stress-management suggestions and tools that they recommend specifically for people with PCOS.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On myPCOSteam — the social network for people with PCOS and their loved ones — more than 71,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with PCOS.

Are you living with stress and PCOS? What stress-management techniques have helped you the most? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on May 7, 2024
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Paul Ballas, D.O. is an attending psychiatrist at Friends Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.

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