The Link Between Endometriosis and Mental Health
For most of my adult life, I have suffered from anxiety and depression. High levels of anxiety would affect my sleeping patterns, and my ability to eat or get things done. In the past, my on-and-off depression was so severe that it became one of the reasons I abandoned my professional career. It wasn’t until I got diagnosed with endometriosis that I saw how everything was linked.
There is a connection between endometriosis and mental health
A while back, researchers at Yale University carried out experiments injecting endometrial cells into mice, and after 12 weeks, these little rodents showed signs of anxiety and depression. This led researchers to conclude that endometriosis has the capacity to affect the brain, bringing upon mental health disorders.1
I spent years going from one therapist to another, failing to find effective treatment for my issues. Gynecologists were quick to mention hormonal imbalances as the root behind my bad periods, but no one talked about the impact this was having on my mental health. I believed I was losing my mind, but it turns out, my body was producing the chemicals impacting my mental health.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
Hormonal imbalances can seriously affect moods.2 Hormones can impact parts of the brain associated with anxiety, making us more likely to experience excessive stress and mood swings on certain days of the cycle. It can also produce a severe form of PMS called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD).
Roughly 5 to 8 percent of women in the UK suffer from PMDD. It involves intense PMS symptoms, from severe depression to extreme anger fits. It is very hard to manage and still, largely misunderstood and rarely diagnosed.
Supporting your mental health
The good news is that research like the that carried out by Yale University is deepening the understanding around endometriosis. Yet, we still need doctors to take into consideration much more than the physical symptoms. Endometriosis patients require extra support to manage the debilitating mental health side of this illness. Yet, we are not powerless. There are things we can do:
Keep a symptom diary
This is useful to track the connection between our cycle and our mental health. Noticing how my PMS was behind my bouts of depression, was not only comforting, but it helped me foresee bad days and organize myself to manage them better.
Mindfulness and meditation
Because severe PMS, anxiety, and low moods are generally temporary, it is useful to observe them as such. It takes practice, but it is very possible to learn to be with these symptoms - and avoid stressing about them - until they dissipate.
Exercise and/or fresh air
Exercise is the best tool I have to deal with anxiety. Even when I am at my lowest, just wearing a big hoodie over my yoga pants and going out for some fresh air will improve my mood, even slightly.
Any chronic illness can impact mental health
The truth is, any chronic illness has the capacity to affect our mental health. Whether it’s exhaustion from being in pain for so long, or from continuous medical visits and surgeries. Our mental health will pay a price. Recognising this is key to manage the symptoms and live a fulfilling life, despite “the endo”.
Do you live with any other health conditions outside of endometriosis?