3 Stress Relieving Activities for People with PCOS

This month is Stress Awareness Month – an opportunity to increase our understanding of what causes stress and how it manifests for us, and learn about the actions we can take to minimise and manage stress optimally.

Everybody experiences stress from time to time and, actually, not all stress is harmful. Science has found that, in moderate amounts, stress can be beneficial – it can improve alertness, memory, and performance. However, when stress is ongoing, it can increase the risk of developing major health issues.

Chronic stress can cause or worsen:

  • Mental illness, such as anxiety and depression
  • Cardiovascular disease (including heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes)
  • Eating disorders
  • Menstrual issues
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Skin and hair problems
  • Gastrointestinal problems

Stress and PCOS – how are the two connected?

What’s the link between stress and PCOS? Well, for starters, studies have found that depression, anxiety and perceived stress are more likely to be present in people who have PCOS than those who don’t. This could be caused by symptoms such as hirsutism and hair loss, a hormonal imbalance, or a combination of reasons.

And, that’s not all. Studies have also found that high levels of cortisol (the hormone that’s released when we’re under stress) could interfere with the body’s insulin response – not ideal for the 65-70% of people who have PCOS and are insulin resistant.

What are the symptoms of stress?

Stress can manifest as physical, mental, and behavioural symptoms. According to the NHS, some of them include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain or a racing heartbeat
  • Sexual issues
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Constantly worrying
  • Forgetfulness
  • Feeling irritable 
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Eating too little or too much
  • Drinking or smoking more

If you’re experiencing ongoing, chronic stress that’s interfering with your ability to live a normal life, see your GP. It’s really important that you get necessary support – both for managing your PCOS and your mental wellbeing.

That said, there are a number of stress relieving activities that you can incorporate into your routine to help minimise stress levels.

3 stress relieving activities for people with PCOS

1. Move your body

Exercise has endless benefits. Seriously – it’s one of the best activities for improving your overall wellbeing and, contrary to popular belief, it needn’t be high intensity or …running. 

Movement triggers the release of endorphins in the body – commonly known as feel-good hormones. They help to boost feelings of pleasure and happiness, and relieve feelings of stress and anxiety. Exercise also helps to improve sleep quality (which can suffer tremendously when you have PCOS), and can significantly lower your risk of developing a serious illness. 

Not sure where to start? Find an activity you enjoy (let’s be real: forcing yourself to engage in exercise you hate will only serve to increase stress levels) – like walking, cycling, HIIT, strength training, team sports, yoga, pilates – every type of movement counts.

2. Practise deep breathing

Stress kickstarts the sympathetic nervous system (otherwise known as the fight or flight response) as your body thinks you’re in danger. When this happens, heart rate increases, digestion slows down to reallocate energy elsewhere in the body, the pancreas decreases insulin secretion, you may start sweating – essentially, your body is trying to help you survive the “threat.”

Deep breathing – also called diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing and belly breathing – can help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system – known as the relaxation response – which works to restore the body’s systems after it has been in fight or flight mode.

Never tried it before? Download the Flourish app and follow the guided breathwork videos.

3. Talk it out 

You know what they say – a problem shared, is a problem halved. We’ll concede that reality is much more nuanced than that, however, it’s true that opening up can help you to work through stressful scenarios and anything causing you anxiety. And, even if you don’t feel like a metaphorical weight has been lifted after confiding in someone, getting another perspective on your situation may provide possible solutions (or, at least, a vague idea of the next steps to to take).

Hopefully, you’re surrounded by supportive and compassionate people who are willing to lend an ear when it’s needed. If you’re keen to connect with others who understand what it’s like to have PCOS, join The PCOS Collective – our private Facebook group for Cysters to share stories, experiences, and offer support to one another.

If you feel you could benefit from professional mental health support, speak to your GP to explore the option of talking therapy. Side note: if talking therapy isn’t immediately available to you, check out Health Hub, an online therapy service that offers free 20-minute phone or video calls to anybody needing emotional or mental support. It’s run by qualified volunteer psychotherapists and counsellors, and is available to all UK adults.

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