Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a complex disorder that doesn’t just cause pimples and some missed periods. The symptoms of PCOS cover almost every part of your body and cause both physical and emotional challenges. Women with PCOS experience fatigue, weight gain, infertility, excess body hair, hair loss, cysts on the ovaries, skin problems, sleeping issues, mood swings, and even mental health disorders.
PCOS often causes a domino effect, where the root issue causes a few symptoms. Then, the effects of those symptoms create even more side effects, including mental health problems— which is why it’s difficult to manage and treat PCOS. It’s a feedback loop that can be daunting, but don’t worry–that’s why I’m here for you! Today I’m dedicating this post to discussing the topic of mental health and how it relates to PCOS.
Here’s the link:
PCOS and Mental Health
We know from research that Cysters are at a much greater risk for mental health complications than the general population. In fact, up to 64% of Cysters report having depression and up to 54% report having anxiety. Even more commonly, women with polycystic ovary syndrome struggle with daily irritability and brain fog.
Studies also show that Cysters are at a high risk of OCD and bipolar disorder. The statistics on mental health disorders in women with PCOS are really heartbreaking since so little is known about polycystic ovarian syndrome. Finding satisfying and hopeful answers and support can feel really difficult!
There are ways to help alleviate even these tough mental health symptoms. But, first, let’s discuss the link between mental health and PCOS:
Effects Of PCOS On Mental Health
There are two main ways that PCOS affects a Cyster’s mental health. First of all, the chronic hormonal imbalance from insulin resistance and irregular menstrual cycles causes lots of fluctuations in mood. The constant dips and rises in hormone levels may lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.
Second, your hormonal imbalance drags your mood down, the reality of your PCOS symptoms sometimes feels overwhelming. When you’re unhappy with your weight, frustrated by constant fatigue, heartbroken over infertility, and ashamed of acne and hair loss, your stress levels can go through the roof and your self-esteem can drop to the floor. Here’s more on the correlation between mood swings and PCOS.
I remember catching myself in college in a Nordstrom mirror when I saw the reality of my PCOS under the bright lights. This was just after I’d been diagnosed with PCOS, and my skin in that mirror looked MUCH worse than I thought it had (college dorm lighting isn’t the best.) And, as I stared at myself, I was so upset with the way I looked and felt in almost every way. People back then said I was a totally different person—and that was thanks to the psychological distress and body image issues stemming from my PCOS.
I wish I knew what I know now! Luckily, you’re here to learn it. Below, I’ll share how I was able to reverse my own PCOS symptoms (including my mood issues) and provide helpful tips for your own recovery journey.
PCOS Mental Health Symptoms
- Brain Fog
- Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Bipolar Disorder
- Eating Disorders
PCOS Mental Health Treatment
There’s no one fix that’ll cure all your PCOS mental health problems. I recommend a holistic approach that addresses the mood issues from lots of different angles.
First of all, if you’re feeling any significant effects of the mental health disorders we’ve listed, please see a therapist. If not, still see a therapist! They’re great! It’s one of the best ways to improve your quality of life and develop some healthy coping skills. They can give you management techniques that can help you find lots of peace and healing.
Exercising is a great serotonin boost! (Serotonin is a neurotransmitter helpful for clear thinking and mood management.) Just make sure you choose a workout that won’t excessively elevate your heart rate because then your body will produce more stress hormones (cortisol) and you probably won’t see as much relief. I recommend slow-weighted workouts, pilates, yoga, walking, and light cardio. You can find plenty of workouts specialized for PCOS on The Cysterhood App!
Yoga and Deep Breathing
Another great method of managing your mental health is to do daily yoga and deep breathing. What people don’t realize is the act of calming down is hormone balancing, so by holding restorative poses like “legs up the wall” or “child’s pose” anywhere from 1-10 minutes, you can reduce your anxiety and support hormone balance. Here’s more on PCOS mental health management through yoga from my podcast.
Green tea contains EGEC, which encourages alpha, beta, and theta brain waves and acts as a calming agent–creating a more relaxed and focused state. Drinking non-caffeinated green tea is a good way of keeping stress and anxiety levels low all day. I have a whole post on tea for PCOS that’ll help you develop your system of adding tea to your routine!
Caffeine works by raising our cortisol levels. Cortisol is our stress hormone, and it’s always working to get balanced with melatonin, which is our relaxing hormone. We want enough cortisol to keep us alert and focused and just enough melatonin to keep us calm and mindful. Too much of either can cause negative side effects!
When our cortisol is too high, we feel stressed and wired, and it can lead to anxiety and fatigue too. Yep, that means caffeine can actually make you more tired. All around, caffeine won’t help you accomplish your PCOS health goals. I recommend you consider cutting it out for your mental and physical health or consuming it in very low moderation.
Changing Your Diet
Our diet can be a big contributor to hormone imbalance, insulin resistance, and inflammation. All these physical side effects of poor diet can aggravate depression, anxiety, and other mood problems. Luckily our diet can also be one of the biggest contributors to our healing!
Consider an anti-inflammatory diet and consider cutting gluten and dairy for 30 days to see how you feel. With intentional food choices, you can improve cravings, relieve symptoms, and even lose weight. Establishing a new diet can be overwhelming, but I am a Registered Dietitian and we’ve developed The Cysterhood App, to help you have the resources you need at your fingertips. From delicious recipes and meal plans to a community that’ll keep you on track!
Even with a healthy diet and balanced hormones, getting all the nutrients your body needs to thrive is tough. When you throw PCOS in the mix, nutrient deficiencies are inevitable. These nutrient deficiencies could be the reason for a number of your symptoms. So, consider supplements like Ovasitol (my favorite PCOS supplement), Omega-3, and Vitamin D3. You can find a full list of PCOS vitamins and supplements here.
Cysters like us have cleared big hurdles through our journey with PCOS. A lot of us probably didn’t know what was going on for years. A lot of us were probably dismissed by lots of doctors before we found the right one. Some of us may have even dealt with ridicule and doubt as we struggled to manage our weight, acne, and energy. All that past trauma and struggle can make us really hard on ourselves.
Mediation can help you learn self-compassion and self-awareness. Sirak (my husband) and I love to use the “RAIN” system while we meditate, meaning that we recognize our negative response, allow the feeling to come, investigate the root cause, and nurture our own minds to overcome the emotions.
This will help you release some of what you’re carrying and learn to be proud of yourself every day! Learn more in our episode of A Cyster and Her Mister where we discuss strategies for depression & anxiety.
Reducing stress and slowing down is a huge part of getting control of your mental health and feeling like yourself again. Try engaging in your hobbies, getting out in nature, scheduling regular massages, taking baths, and journaling regularly.
These practices will help you gain mindfulness and see the reality beyond the doom and gloom you’re feeling. Here are some tips from a PCOS mental health expert on this process, and in this episode of our podcast, you can hear about my approaches to self-care for PCOS.
The final piece of the puzzle for PCOS management is community. Knowing you have a tribe of Cysters going through the same challenges as you are so empowering! Together on The Cysterhood App, you can find healing, friendship, and, hopefully, happiness through community.
PCOS and mental health struggles go hand-in-hand, but these tips can help you find relief!
I hope these tips help you find relief from your mental health struggles. I can’t wait to hear your story when you come out on the other side of this. Be sure to browse the blog for more ways to naturally heal your PCOS and take back your life. I’m rooting for you!