The Link Between Stress and Endometriosis
I didn’t know it at the time, but by mid-2017, I had the perfect opportunity to evaluate the relationship between my stress levels and my endometriosis. I’d just left a stressful work environment, only to face the uncertainty of unemployment and finding a new job. Bills were piling up and my sleep schedule was suffering.
Soon my physical health began suffering, too. My endo symptoms started showing up more and more often, until one day, the pain started up and just never stopped. From that point on, I was in pain every day.
Later, I got to thinking that this probably wasn’t a coincidence. I’ve heard of mental health being linked to physical health, such as when stress compromises a person’s immune system and they’re more likely to pick up a cold.
I wondered: Is my endometriosis somehow connected to my stress? I went looking for answers, and here’s what I found.
What the science says
A team of researchers set out to uncover the link between endometriosis and stress in 20111, and again in March 20182. They studied rats with endometriosis, putting half of the rats through swim stress tests and comparing the size and impact of their endometriosis lesions.
The rats that endured the stress tests ended up like me: with bigger endo lesions that caused more damage. In other words, the rats showed that stress does, indeed, make endometriosis worse.
What stress and endometriosis have in common
Scientists have a few theories as to why stress and endo are linked. For one thing, when your body is under stress, it produces a hormone called cortisol. Over time, producing too much cortisol can hurt your immune system’s ability to function – which explains why you might be more likely to catch a cold when you’re stressed out.
Stress also increases inflammation in your body, and inflammation plays a huge role in endometriosis. More inflammation can ultimately mean more pain.
What this means for managing endometriosis
This information points to an obvious conclusion: Lowering my stress levels could help me experience less endo pain. But managing your endometriosis by limiting your stress levels is easier said than done. It’s kind of a catch-22, considering that endometriosis can actually cause stress when it comes to employment, relationships, fertility, and more. I also have an anxiety disorder and PTSD, and having a mental illness can mean carrying a constant level of stress in my body.
That’s why I’ve found that, rather than trying to avoid stress altogether, it’s worthwhile for me to develop tools for dealing with stress when it comes up. Those tools can include meditation, self-expression through journaling, and a supportive community of friends.
The good news? Stress management is something I can pursue on my own. I don’t necessarily have to pay for expensive treatments or enlist a healthcare professional’s help (although checking in with a doctor or therapist can be useful). But, whatever it takes, now I know for sure that tending to my feelings of stress isn’t some trivial self-indulgence. It’s a matter of caring for my health, which is just as important as any other area of my life.
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