Every woman responds differently to being diagnosed, and living with, PCOS. Women with the condition are more likely to experience depression, anxiety and low self-esteem than those without it (1). Despite this, emotional issues commonly experienced by women with PCOS tend to be overlooked.
How can having PCOS affect your emotional wellbeing?
Being diagnosed: Feeling sad, frightened, angry, frustrated, confused, and even relieved, are just some of the normal responses to being diagnosed with PCOS. The degree to which a diagnosis can impact your emotional wellbeing depends on numerous factors. For example, it may have been difficult, or taken a long time, for you to get diagnosed. Perhaps you didn’t feel supported or provided with sufficient information at the time. Your personality, ways of coping, support network, severity of symptoms, and having pre-existing mood related disorders can also affect the way you respond to being diagnosed with PCOS.
Physical symptoms: Excessive hair growth, reduced fertility, irregular menstrual cycles and weight gain have been found to be the most distressing PCOS symptoms (1). Some women with PCOS have said that their reduced fertility and excess facial and body hair made them feel “freakish” and “abnormal” (2). Experiencing physical changes in your body can also lead to feeling out of control and less confident, and developing body image issues, such as being overly self-conscious or having an unhealthy relationship with food.
PCOS can cause fertility problems and difficulties conceiving can be understandably distressing. Charities, such as the Infertility Network UK and Resolve: The National Infertility Association in the USA, provide a wealth of information and support for both men and women. You can also speak with your medical practitioner to discuss support options available.
Stress: Living with a health condition can be stressful. Although small amounts of stress can be a motivator to take action, too much stress over prolonged periods of time can be detrimental to your health. Find out more about ways that stress can impact the body.
What emotional support and help may be useful?
Professional support: Some of the emotional responses outlined above can be normal responses to a challenging time of life. However, if you’re depressed, anxious or feel that you need support with your emotional wellbeing, please liaise with your medical practitioner or qualified health professional for advice. Some women, for example, may benefit from speaking with a counsellor or clinical psychologist.
Experiencing physical changes can lead to feeling out of control and less confident, and developing body image issues
Education: Having an understanding of PCOS and how it affects your body is essential to learn about ways to manage the condition. Additionally, understanding how stress and anxiety affects the body can be useful to help take steps to improve your emotional wellbeing. It can be empowering and a confidence booster to know that there are many things you can do to help improve your symptoms and health. There are other online resources available that may also be helpful. For example, Jean Hailes is a women’s health organisation in Australia and has a useful online information resource on mental and emotional issues for women with PCOS. Getselfhelp.co.uk is a website with lots of self-help information and resources for a range of emotional issues.
Support: Trusted friends and family can provide invaluable support. Speaking with other women who have had similar experiences can also be comforting and reassuring. There are PCOS support groups and online discussion forums: in the UK, the PCOS charity, Verity, has further information. A word of caution about the sources of information you use: choose reliable, trustworthy ones. Every woman’s experience of PCOS is different and it’s important to make informed decisions that best suit you.
Positive affirmations and self-talk: It can be easy for unhelpful negative thoughts to become part of how you think and speak without fully realising. Be kind to yourself. Remind yourself of the things you like about yourself, your body and surround yourself with positive, supportive people.
Positive affirmations are a way of challenging negative thoughts to create a more positive mindset. Affirmations are usually said in the present tense using “I”. For example, instead of thinking, “I’m overweight and nothing is helping”, you could repeat, “I trust my body and I’m making positive changes”. Even if you don’t believe the affirmation right now, repeating a positive statement often throughout the day can help develop a positive attitude. Whenever you catch yourself having a negative thought or saying something negative, repeat the positive affirmation immediately. Find out more about how positive affirmations work.
Eat healthily and exercise regularly: Good nutrition and exercise are both key to improving PCOS symptoms. They can also be an empowering way to lift your mood, give you more energy and improve emotional health in women with PCOS (3).
Take up a new hobby: Having PCOS, where there can be so many physical changes, may lead to some women avoiding certain activities. Having a creative outlet or stepping outside of your comfort zone to do something different can help us feel more confident, meet new people and have some fun. So, take up that new exercise class or sign up for that course – don’t think about it too much, just do it!
Relaxation: Feeling stressed or anxious are the body’s normal response mechanisms to a perceived threat or danger. However, we often don’t need these survival responses. Relaxation can help to decrease the adrenaline released in stressful situations and let go of physical or mental tension. Relaxation can also aid sleep, improve self-confidence and reduce tiredness throughout the day.
As with learning any new skill, it can take time and practice to learn how to unwind. There are numerous ways to relax and many useful resources available. For example, there are many books on the benefits of meditation, you can download guided meditations online and learn simple meditation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness, or guided imagery.
Mindfulness needn’t be complicated. For example, try focus on your breathing for 1 minute. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Every time a thought comes into your mind, acknowledge it and then focus back on your breath.
Practising yoga can also be relaxing, as can having a massage, listening to music, and using aromatherapy. You may also find particular activities relax you, such as having a bath or exercising. Enjoy exploring techniques and activities that suit you best.
Note that referenced or mentioned authors, websites and organisations are not affiliated with, nor endorsing, the content published on Positive PCOS.
1: Zangenah, F.Z. et al. (2012) Psychological Distress in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome from Imam Khomeini Hospital, Tehran. Journal of Reproduction & Infertility. 13(2): 111-115
2: Kitzinger C & J. Willmott (2002) 'The thief of womanhood': women's experience of polycystic ovarian syndrome. Social Science & Medicine. 54 (3): 349-61
3: Conte, F. et al. (2015) Mental Health and Physical Activity in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Brief Review. Sports Medicine. 45 (4): 497–504