Managing Your Emotions with PCOS
As someone with or close to someone who has PCOS, you will be well aware of the challenges and changes it causes. When it comes to diagnosis, you may have found that there is a strong focus from doctors on the physical symptoms of PCOS - however, it also comes with mental and emotional implications too. Whilst this may seem daunting, alike the physical symptoms you can also manage the mental effects with the right knowledge and understanding of PCOS. Here, we give you all of the information you need when it comes to the emotional side of PCOS and some top tips on how to manage it in your everyday life.
Making sense of the mental effects of PCOS
Despite the previous focus being on the physical side of PCOS, a lot of research is now being conducted to better understand the link between PCOS and mental health. What this has brought to light is the unfortunate fact that many women with PCOS are already aware of: having PCOS can increase your risk of developing a mental health problem.
One such study was from researchers from Cardiff University who studied the mental health history of 17,000 women with PCOS. The report found women with PCOS have a higher risk of being diagnosed with a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder compared with those who don’t have PCOSi.
“The effect of PCOS on mental health is under-appreciated,” says Dr Aled Rees, who led the study. “Our work shows that screening for mental health disorders should be considered during clinical assessments. Further research is needed to confirm the neurodevelopmental effects of PCOS.”
As anyone who’s living with the symptoms of PCOS knows, the condition can be stressful, to say the least. But while the researchers didn’t investigate whether the stress of living with PCOS is a direct cause of any associated mental health issues, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that having PCOS – with its multitude of symptoms – could get even the most positive person down now and then.
PCOS sufferer Melanie knows this only too well, “I often feel depressed knowing that my body is not the way it should be, and not having any control over the condition,” she says.
However, it’s not the first time PCOS and mental wellbeing problems have been linked. Earlier studies have also suggested the condition can cause poor mental health in women. One suggests women with PCOS don’t just have a higher risk of developing depression and anxiety but that they could be affected by body dissatisfaction, eating disorders and low sexual satisfaction tooii.
Another claims women with PCOS have significantly higher levels of psychological distress than the general population, and that the main source of emotional distress is menstrual abnormalities, such as an irregular cycleiii.
Whilst this all might seem doom and gloom, what it does highlight that women with PCOS, like yourself, need more support when it comes to their mental wellbeing when diagnosed with the condition.
How to tell if you’re down
This is the first step in helping yourself - being able to recognise when your mindset is more than just a passing emotion is incredibly important. With this knowledge, you can make positive changes in your life to pull away from depressive feelings.
Fortunately, screening for psychological is already part of the clinical support process when it comes to PCOS, with industry leaders recognising how PCOS can have a detrimental effect on quality of life that goes beyond just the physicaliv. You’ll likely be asked the two following questions, which are used to look for signs of depression:
During the last month, have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?
During the last month, have you often been bothered by having little interest or pleasure in doing things?
If your answer is ‘yes’ to one or both questions, consider asking your GP or specialist to refer you for a mental health assessment, as you could benefit from treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy or other forms of counselling.
However, there are also lots of things you can do for yourself - taking back control of your mental health and your condition. Below are some of our top tips when it comes to managing your emotions with PCOS.
Healthy body, healthy mind
Having good nutrition and taking regular exercise are two of the most important things you can do to help improve your PCOS symptoms. Eating a healthy balanced diet will not only improve your mood but could also help you to lose weight if necessary.
Being physically active is also widely thought to help lift mood because it encourages the release of feel-good chemicals in your brain called endorphinsv. Exercising a may also be a good distraction from negative thoughts and improve social interactionvi - two important aspects of depression to combat against.
Finding a form of exercise that makes you happy is essential - be it walking, running, weightlifting, boxing, yoga or even a team sport. Just remember that to stay healthy you need to do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week. And any exercise is better than none, even if it’s just a 10-minute walk around the block at lunchtime.
Learning everything you can about PCOS and how it affects your mind and body may help you understand how to manage it and improve your emotional wellbeing. Just knowing there are ways you can help yourself could boost your confidence and make you feel empowered rather than helpless.
Ask your healthcare team for as much information as they can supply on the condition and consider joining an online PCOS forum, such as Health Unlocked, Patient, NHS Choices, Fertility Friends and Soul Cysters, where you can keep in touch with others affected by PCOS.
Talk about it
One of the key ways to manage your emotions is to talk about them. Talking to friends and family about how you’re feeling can make you feel less isolated and more reassured. If you don’t have someone you know you can confide in, why not join a local PCOS group? The groups, run by PCOS charity Verity, have locations all over the country – and if there isn’t one nearby, you could even start your own.
Alternatively, you could try keeping a journal where you record your thoughts and emotions about living with PCOS. Journaling is widely thought to help you cope with things like depression, stress and anxiety because it can help you understand your feelings more clearly or identify why you have negative thoughts. Try to write something every day – even if it’s just a sentence or two – and don’t worry about things like grammar or spelling, as you don’t have to share what’s in your journal with anyone else if you don’t want to.
Many people find learning to meditate can help them relax and unwind. Mindfulness is a type of meditation that’s easy to achieve – and it need only take up a few minutes a day. It’s all about paying attention to the here and now: how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking and what’s going on around you.
Try this easy mindfulness exercise to get you started. Sit somewhere quiet and comfortable, close your eyes and focus on your breathing for just one minute. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. If other thoughts come into your head, acknowledge them, then bring your focus back to your breath. ake a look at our guide to mindfulness for more in depth advice.
There are also plenty of apps out there which can help you to practice on the go and keep track of your progress. Buddhify and Headspace are two great apps which you can download to your phone for free - keeping you accountable and really being in the palm of your hand.
Sing yourself happy
There’s a reason why most people like to belt out a tune in the shower- singing has been found to help boost mood and improve a sense of belonging, especially if you sing as part of a groupvii. Researchers have even discovered that community singing workshops help with mental health recovery, as the combination of singing and social interaction produces an ongoing feeling of belonging and wellbeingviii.
Use positive affirmations
Everyone experiences self-doubt and negative self-thoughts now and then. But using positive affirmations – statements that challenge negativity and promote a more positive mindset – can be helpful, even though you may not believe them at first. For example, if you’re struggling with your weight and tend to tell yourself that you’re never going to get to the dress size you want to be, repeat something like ‘I am making positive changes to achieve my ideal body’.
We hope that you find our advice useful and can incorporate them into your lifestyle to help you manage the mental effects of PCOS. For more information on PCOS and advice on how to manage its symptoms, explore our PCOS hub.
Polycystic ovary syndrome is associated with adverse mental health and neurodevelopmental outcomes: a retrospective observational study. Society for Endocrinology BES 2017 Conference, Harrogate, UK. Available online: https://www.endocrinology.org/press/press-releases/women-with-pcos-should-be-screened-for-mental-health-disorders/
Himelein, M.J., Thatcher, S.S. (2006 Nov). Polycystic ovary syndrome and mental health: A review. Obstet Gynecol Surv. 61(11):723-32. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17044949
McCook, J.G., et al. (2015 Jul). Differential Contributions of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) Manifestations to Psychological Symptoms. J Behav Health Serv Res. 42(3):383-94. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24390359
Long-term Consequences of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, Green-top Guideline No. 33. (November 2014). Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists. Available online: https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/guidelines/gtg_33.pdf
Exercise and Depression. Web MD. [Accessed 15th March 2018]. Available online: https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression
Clinical Depression. NHS. [Accessed 15th March 2018]. Available online: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/clinical-depression/living-with/
Community singing ‘improves mental health and helps recovery’. BBC News. December 2017. [Accessed 15th March 2018]. Available online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-42431430
Shakespeare, T., Whieldon, A. Sing Your Heart Out: community singing as part of mental health recovery. Med Humanit. 2017 Nov 25. pii: medhum-2017-011195. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29175881