Chronic stress is toxic. As we wrap up PCOS Awareness Month 2021, let's talk about an essential aspect of PCOS management and life we don't address enough-- the impact of uncontrolled chronic stress.
If you're reading this, chances are you've experienced some type of stress in the last 24hrs. Stress is one of the side effects of living. And since 2020, we've been under a lot of stress as we continue to live through the pandemic.
When it comes to stress, there are a few things you need to know:
It doesn't take long to develop chronic stress. The sympathetic nervous system (aka "Flight or Fight" response) is our body's first line stress response. It releases hormones that rev our body up, such as epinephrine and norepinephrine, which then send signals to release hormones such as cortisol. This system wires us for acute stress response that should ideally be cut off within 24hrs maximum. When the sympathetic nervous system remains active for more than 24hrs, especially for several days, it short circuits and causes disruption in the body's normal hormonal regulation. Specifically, chronic exposure to high cortisol levels leads to insulin resistance, which causes a lot of health conditions that we'll discuss below.
"Good" events can trigger stress in your body even if you are happy. There's a myth that stress always has to be associated with negative experiences. However, good and bad stress release the same biochemicals that can worsen your metabolic health and associated medical conditions like insulin resistance, PCOS, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc.
Biologically, stress causes the release of cortisol. This hormone sends signals in the body to help deal with a perceived stressor. In the short term, cortisol causes weight gain through:
water retention--> bloating
increased consumption of sugars and fats to meet the body's energy needs in stressful times to face a stressful state. The latter is why many tend to turn to "emotional eating" when under stress. Cortisol also causes spikes in our blood sugar levels by triggering the body to release more sugar through a process called "gluconeogenesis" while disrupting the body's ability to store sugar by causing desensitization to insulin, the hormone needed for sugar to enter cells. This is called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is associated with worsening metabolic health and medical conditions like insulin resistance PCOS, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc. Prolonged high cortisol levels for more than a week have been associated with insulin resistance, which leads to higher body weight and larger waist circumference over time.
You could be stressed and not even know it. As a self-proclaimed "Cool Nerd," I love data. Biofeedback testing is excellent but not readily available for most people. An easy tool to quantify your stress is the Holmes-Rahe scale. See the picture below.
Why is it important to quantify your stress? Because a lot of us are unaware of carrying harmful stress loads until it's too late. We see our stress show up as uncontrolled weight changes, fatigue, PCOS symptoms, depression, anxiety, and much more.
Awareness is the first step to being able to make a meaningful intervention.
Becoming aware of my own uncontrolled stress levels and implementing a practical stress management strategy has been essential to my seven-year weight and wellness journey. My stress management strategy has helped prevent me from losing my hair—like I did right after I got married due to "happy" stress—or carrying 40lbs extra weight—like I did the first two years after I had my son due to "hectic" stress. Professionally I see how unhelpful stress levels sabotage even your best eating habits and fitness plan. That's why if you truly want to embrace your optimal weight and wellness, developing your strategy for optimal stress management is essential.
In Chapter 6, "Embrace Less Stress," of my bestselling book, "Embrace You: Your Guide to Transforming Weight Loss Misconceptions Into Lifelong Wellness," I empower you with the tools you need to create your own effective stress management solutions. I encourage you to check out this tool as well as the other resources listed below. It's also essential to know when your stress is a symptom of a mental health condition such as major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety. There are resources in the book to clue you into the difference between high stress and a mental health condition.
Living with PCOS, obesity, and metabolic health conditions can be stressful, but you don't have to live in distress. There is a lot of support to help you on your journey. As we wrap up PCOS Awareness Month, our support for the PCOS warriors and Obesity Overcomers continues. Join the incredible, multidisciplinary My Dynamic Uterus moderators and me weekly in the Let's Talk PCOS room on Wednesdays at 10 am EST and the authentic Overcoming Obesity moderators on Thursdays at 12 pm
EST on Clubhouse.
In the interim, each day choose to
Release "I'm so stressed out"
Embrace "I can manage my stress well"
Okay, Embracers: What helpful stress solution have you found works best for stress management?
My Dynamic Uterus Club - PCOS Weekly Club meets Wednesdays at 10am EST on Clubhouse Dr. Cindy Duke PCOS Support Girl -US Largest PCOS Support Group PCOSCOCOON -UK’s largest PCOS Support Group (Gee Williams)
"Embrace You: Your Guide to Transforming Weight Loss Misconceptions Into Lifelong Wellness" Sam S. (2007). Obesity and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Obesity management, 3(2), 69–73. https://doi.org/10.1089/obe.2007.0019
PCOS & Your Body Talks on IG
Published Articles on Stress featuring Dr. Sylvia Gonsahn-Bollie
Mental Health & Wellness Screening tools
Medical Disclaimer: Content on this page is for general information only. It is not intended as medical advice nor does it establish a doctor patient relationship between the writer and the reader.