Mindfulness: An Essential Component to PCOS Management

Let’s face it: People are more stressed than ever before and it’s not getting much better. We work hard, often times juggling more than we can handle. We care for other people. On a daily basis we are flooded with different forms of information. Smartphones, tablets, TV, radio, computers, even watches consume much of our time and attention. Attention that is not given to ourselves and our bodies. Which is why we all could use a little (or a lot) more mindfulness.

Women with PCOS in particular can benefit from mindfulness practice as they tend to experience anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbances. Higher levels of stress hormones like cortisol have been shown to be high in women with PCOS, which may worsen the condition by increasing insulin and other metabolic parameters.

What is Mindfulness?

While some mistake mindfulness for meditation, it is so much more. Mindfulness is more about awareness of the present moment, paying attention to one’s current thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations moment to moment without judgment. It’s not being in the future, thinking of things that need to get done, or in the past, dwelling on mistakes. It’s about what you’re experiencing right now.

For example, as you read this, notice how your body sits. Is your body slouched, arched, or strained? What sounds do you hear around you? Is your heart racing or do you notice other sensations in your body? You just experienced mindfulness by noticing these things.

Health Benefits of Mindfulness

Those who formally practice mindfulness on a regular basis report positive effects on their minds and bodies. Mentally, they report feeling less stressed and happier. For others, they have been able to use mindfulness to manage chronic pain or illness.

Mindfulness practice relieves stress due to an enhanced relaxation response. This response causes changes in brain activity and structure, improvements in the autonomic nervous system, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, cortisol, sleep, mood, enhanced focus and sensory awareness.

A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials involving individuals with vascular disease, showed that mindfulness interventions reduced stress, depression and anxiety, as well as evidence that mindfulness has a positive impact on physical outcomes such as blood pressure and stress hormones.

Other research showed that mindfulness practice can reduce anxiety and depression as well as glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

Mindfulness and PCOS

Researchers are only starting to explore the impact mindfulness has on women with PCOS and so far, the results are favorable.

Yoga is a popular form of mindfulness. A study published in the International Journal of Yoga found that 12 weeks of a holistic yoga program in adolescent girls with PCOS was significantly better than a physical exercise program in reducing anxiety symptoms. In addition to improving menstrual cycles, the girls also showed significant improvement in anti-mullerian hormone, luteinizing hormone (LH), glucose, lipids, insulin, and testosterone, even more so than physical exercise.

In a study published in Stress, women with PCOS were randomly selected to participate in an 8-week mindfulness stress management program involving 30 minute classes. These classes demonstrated and discussed mindfulness breathing exercises with daily at home practices. At the end of the study, women were assessed as having less stress, depression and anxiety as well as improved quality of life. Women also saw reductions in cortisol levels. These results lead researchers to suggest that “mindfulness techniques seem promising in ameliorating stress, anxiety, depression and the quality of life in women with PCOS and could be used as an adjunct method to the conventional management of these women.”

Workbook 3D

A good place to start learning more about mindfulness for PCOS is The PCOS Workbook: Your Guide to Complete Physical and Emotional Health. This bestselling self-help workbook covers topics such as mindfulness to manage stress and ways to be a more mindful eater. The PCOS Workbook has been shown to be an effective tool to reduce anxiety, depression, and problematic eating.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), the most researched mindfulness-based program, is now offered in most cities. This program offers an introductory foundation to teach the skills and basics of mindfulness practice. MBSR is an 8-week program consisting of weekly classes and daily mindfulness practices and reading outside of class. Formal mindfulness practices involve sitting and lying meditation while informal exercises involve challenging daily responses to stress. Some programs include a daily retreat.

Having just completed a MBSR program through Penn Medicine, I can tell you first-hand how important daily mindfulness practice is for managing PCOS. When I first started the class, I was doubtful that I would be able to meditate effectively. What I learned was that mindfulness isn’t about sitting still without thoughts for a prolonged period of time. Rather, it taught me more about awareness of my thoughts, feelings, and sensations in my body.

I also learned how to better manage my response to stress. In doing the formal mindfulness practices, I would sometimes reach a bliss state of peace and relaxation, comparable to that of taking a long, deep nap. This relaxation would extend throughout my day. It was as if I could feel my cortisol levels coming down.

Mindfulness practice doesn’t stop when the class ends, it only begins. A MBSR program requires dedication and effort but the results have the potential to have life changing effects for your body and mind. That is, if you notice them.

Abbott RA, Whear R, Rodgers LR, Bethel A, Thompson Coon J, Kuyken W, Stein K, Dickens C. Effectiveness of mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness based cognitive therapy in vascular disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Psychosom Res. 2014;76(5):341-51.

Van Son J, Nyklícek I, Pop VJ, Blonk MC, Erdtsieck RJ, Spooren PF, Toorians AW, Pouwer F. The effects of a mindfulness-based intervention on emotional distress, quality of life, and HbA(1c) in outpatients with diabetes (DiaMind): a randomized controlled trial. Diabetes Care. 2013;36(4):823-30.

Nidhi R, Padmalatha V, Nagarathna R, Amritanshu R. Effect of holistic yoga program on anxiety symptoms in adolescent girls with polycystic ovarian syndrome: A randomized control trial. Int J Yoga. 2012 Jul;5(2):112-7.

Nidhi R, Padmalatha V, Nagarathna R, Amritanshu R. Effects of a holistic yoga program on endocrine parameters in adolescents with polycystic ovarian syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2013 Feb;19(2):153-60.

Nidhi R, Padmalatha V, Nagarathna R, Ram A.Effect of a yoga program on glucose metabolism and blood lipid levels in adolescent girls with polycystic ovary syndrome. Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 2012 Jul;118(1):37-41.

Rosenzweig S1, Reibel DK, Greeson JM, Edman JS, Jasser SA, McMearty KD, Goldstein BJ. Mindfulness-based stress reduction is associated with improved glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus: a pilot study. Altern Ther Health Med. 2007;13(5):36-8.

Raja-Khan N, Agito K, Shah J, Stetter CM, Gustafson TS, Socolow H, Kunselman AR, Reibel DK, Legro RS. Mindfulness-based stress reduction for overweight/obese women with and without polycystic ovary syndrome: Design and methods of a pilot randomized controlled trial. Contemp Clin Trials. 2017;41:287-297.

Stefanaki C, Bacopoulou F, Livadas S, Kandaraki A, Karachalios A, Chrousos GP, Diamanti-Kandarakis E. Impact of a mindfulness stress management program on stress, anxiety, depression and quality of life in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. Stress. 2015;18(1):57-66.

Correa J, Sperry S, Darkes J. A case report demonstrating the efficacy of a comprehensive cognitive-behavioral therapy approach for treating anxiety, depression, and problematic eating in polycystic ovarian syndrome. Archives Women’s Health. 2015.

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Comments (2)
  • Kristi

    April 8, 2015 at 10:35 am

    Dr Susan Albers has great books on mindful eating. EatQ was really good.

  • Vertical Garden Kit

    April 18, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    Great article, looking forward to reading more about mindfulness. All the best 🙂

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