Stress and Endometriosis
Last updated: July 2022
Research has shown endometriosis is linked to higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression compared to healthy women. Furthermore, increased levels of stress are related to the severity of the disease and higher levels of pain.1
What is stress?
Stress is defined as a threat or an anticipation of a threat to your safety. It’s your body’s way of keeping you safe.
Stress makes you focused and alert, keeping you out of harm's way. But there comes the point where stress stops being helpful and starts causing health problems; this happens when stress is persistent or chronic.
What can stress do to the body?
Whenever you feel stressed, a whole range of events occur within the body: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is activated (known as the fight or flight response) along with the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. The activation of these pathways increases blood sugar levels, which allows the body to have the energy to cope with a stressful event.1
Your body doesn’t know the difference between emotional or physical stressors. If you are constantly stressed about your health, it can disrupt nearly every system in your body.
Chronic stress can also disrupt the HPA axis, altering the release of the stress hormone cortisol, causing too much cortisol to be released or not enough, which can contribute to fatigue, a common symptom reported by those with endometriosis.1
Stress and endometriosis
Endometriosis symptoms are capable of causing chronic stress, anxiety, and depression. Those of us affected by the condition are surrounded by uncertainty about the success of treatment and long-term health risks in addition to the symptoms.
While it is unknown the exact role of stress in the development of endometriosis, animal studies have shown that stress worsens the disease.1
Persistent stress is linked to several inflammatory diseases, immune-related conditions, and mental health conditions. Therefore, it seems logical to think that higher levels of ongoing stress will play a role in endometriosis.1,2
Research also shows that women with a history of childhood abuse were more likely to have endometriosis, which suggests that early stress exposure plays a role in the development of endometriosis.1
What are the best ways to handle stress?
If stress is a problem for you, here are some ways to help manage it:
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to significantly improve depression and quality of life in those dealing with chronic pain. It’s also been shown to reduce pain. Mindfulness is the observation of whatever is happening in the present moment without judgment. It’s a process of being in the ‘now’ and teaches you to become less reactive and helps to calm the mind and body.3,4
Gentle yoga or another form of movement
Yoga can be great for stress relief. Slower forms of hatha yoga have been shown to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which activates the relaxation response.5
Eat a healthy diet
As a nutritionist, I also need to remind you to eat a healthy diet and to look after your gut health! Most of our immune system is housed in the gut, and our gut bacteria and chemicals such as serotonin are produced there, which play an important role in our mental health.
Look into supplements
In addition to a healthy diet, supplements can help. Some examples of these include; magnesium, glycine, vitamin B5, B6, folate, B12, vitamin C, and herbs such as ashwagandha and Rhodiola Rosea.
Which symptoms are you experiencing the most this week? (Check all that apply):