Having a chronic illness like endometriosis, and stress appearing in your life are two things that tend to go hand in hand. Struggling with symptoms like extreme pain, fatigue, digestive symptoms, and more causes stress. And then stress can further contribute to symptoms. It certainly is a vicious cycle! We focus a lot around here on the physiological pieces of endometriosis like how nutrition and gut health are connected. This is all important, but today we are going to take a step back and look at mental health and mindset and how it all connects back to how you feel. Stress and endometriosis, it’s time to go through a little breakup!
Why do stress and endometriosis always come together?
We are all familiar with stress in some form or another. Stress can come into play through relationships, finances, traffic, work, you name it. These are all forms of what are known as “external stressors.” These are influences that are outside of our bodies.
There is another form of stress though, which are “internal stressors.” This is any form of stress that comes from inside of your body. This can look like pain, inflammation, digestive distress, blood sugar dysregulation, and so much more. Does any of this sound familiar with endo? I thought it might!
We’re going to take a look at how some of these internal and external stressors can impact your endo body and what we can do about it. But first let’s take a look at why stress is even something to address in the first place!
Stress and endometriosis: why does it matter?
I know that when I began my healing journey with endo, my main focus was on everything I was putting in my body. I was looking into food and nutrition as well as supplements, removing toxins from my environment, and so much more.
And I still fully believe in all of that! But it’s just one of those things in life. What I found was that when I was going into a meal feeling worried and stressed about what I was or wasn’t eating rather than enjoying the meal, I didn’t feel any better. You can eat the most “perfect” diet, but if you are stressed like crazy about it then it is much less likely to have the impact you are looking for.
Whereas you can eat the exact same foods, but go into the meal with gratitude and calm and feel so much better. Now I focus on eating mostly foods that nourish my body because I know I feel best that way, but I don’t panic or stress if that is not an option in the moment or I just don’t feel like it. It’s not a problem.
Whether I am eating a beautiful home cooked meal packed with protein and veggies and nutrients or I am sitting down with a bag of chips, some store-bought salsa, and a gluten free cupcake, I start my meal with gratitude and with joy. My personal practice is to sit down, close my eyes, take a few deep breaths, and give a little gratitude to the food in front of me, whatever it is. No judgment of the food or of myself is allowed in. Just joy.
The thing is, stress impacts everything. Every single cell in your body is affected by stress. Your digestive system, your hormones, your reproductive system…and that is just the beginning.
The first thing that I teach when it comes to digestive health is remembering to eat in a calm, relaxed state. If I have a client who comes to me and is not currently ovulating, the first thing I look at is their stress levels.
There are so many angles to look at when it comes to true healing with endo, but stress is one of those things that just can’t be left on the back burner. If you are beginning your healing journey, you have chosen a wonderful place to start!
The bathtub of stress
I like to look at stress with the bathtub analogy. You are the bathtub and the water level is your stress. You can only hold so much, right? If the bathtub is getting too full, you have two options. Option 1 is to start bailing out the water. Option 2 is to turn the water off.
I recommend both.
I know what you are thinking. How in the world am I going to remove all of the stress from my life? That sounds impossible. Well, you would be right. Realistically, you are not going to turn off your stress completely. That’s okay. What you can do if you set your best intentions to it, is to turn it down.
I get it, as women we feel like the world rests on our shoulders. We take on and manage so much in our lives. When I was first learning about the impacts of stress on my body, I thought to myself, “well that’s great, but there’s no way I’ll be able to do anything about that.”
But you know what? I did. I did it like my health depended on it.
If it is a choice between having everything perfectly the way you want it and being in control of everything and your health…well, is that really a choice?
I love my work and I do tend to lean into being a bit of a workaholic. I love to be productive and, well…I love to be in control of things! Just being honest here! On the other hand, I was regularly feeling overwhelmed and exhausted because I had so much on my plate. So little by little, I started taking things off my plate. When I started the process, I was truly amazed at how much I could really pair things down.
I started by delegating little tasks. Later on, bigger things. Then I started to prioritize. What things have to get done and what things just don’t? What things am I spending my time on that, when I zoom out, just aren’t that important?
I simplified my business. I started focusing on the things that matter most. That has been a game changer. I was even able to get back to doing more of the things that I love like taking yoga classes, hiking, having long and meaningful conversations with my hubby, and meeting up with friends. These are the things that fuel my soul! If I am not spending time doing these things, then what am I really doing?
I still love my work. I adore creating content about endo. Seeing my clients experience life-changing results from our work together brings me more joy than I could ever put into words. I feel like this work is what I was put on this earth to do. And honestly, prioritizing the important things has helped me to show up for my clients in the way that I really want to anyway. If I have a full cup, I am better able to fill the cup of those around me.
Here is a wonderful place to start when it comes to external stressors in your life: sit down and make a list of all the things that are causing you stress. Then really take a look at that list and see what you can delegate, what you can simplify, and what you can just get rid of altogether. I promise, you will be surprised how much space you can create in your life when you give it a try!
We are taught that life is always stressful, but what if we can choose another way?
Dialing down the internal stress and endometriosis connection
That list you made is a wonderful way to work on those external stressors. Those are probably the ones that are most obvious to you. But what about those internal stressors I mentioned? That is the part I love to explore the most.
I have multiple blog posts written that go into more detail about many of these topics. So for today I am going to give you a brief overview and then at the end of this post I will link to some of those articles if you would like to dive deeper.
For starters, dialing in your digestive health is huge. As Hipocrates said 2,000 years ago, “All disease begins in the gut.” Those words are so true. This is another one of those never-ending circles. Stress can lead to digestive dysfunction, but digestive dysfunction contributes more to internal stress. This can look like your body not breaking down food efficiently, having an overgrowth of bacteria, fungi, or parasites, leaky gut, and multiple food sensitivities. Supporting this system in your body can have massive impacts on your internal stress as well as other symptoms like endo pain, fatigue, and even mental health.
If you haven’t heard my full story before, I started out with so many digestive symptoms. I experienced most of what I listed above. My stool test came back with a plethora of things to be addressed. I felt like so much of my time and energy was devoted to worrying about it.
Taking the time and the investment to get to the root of all that has been life changing for me. I feel like I can now eat comfortably without worrying about how my body is going to react to the food I am eating. I know that I can trust my body to do what it does best.
I can wear the clothes I have always wanted to wear that I avoided for so long because my bloated belly was so uncomfortable.
Those little thoughts and worries all cause stress. The physical imbalances in your body also cause stress. This all adds up so quickly and can end up with that bathtub overflowing and then some.
The same is true when it comes to keeping your blood sugar balanced. If your body is constantly going through the blood sugar rollercoaster day in and day out, did you know that this directly affects your adrenals? That’s right! Your adrenal glands respond to blood sugar “emergencies” just the same way as it does to other stressors.
Getting to the root of these physical symptoms so you can resolve them once and for all is such an important part of healing. If your body is less stressed internally, it can also help you to feel less stressed.
Again, I didn’t think this was possible for me. I used to always say I was at a 10/10 stress level. Pretty much on any given day. Now I would say I typically hover around a 3 and I am doing better every day! This is 100% possible for you as well.
Techniques for managing stress and endometriosis
We have talked about addressing internal and external stressors in your lives. I also mentioned that eliminating all stress from your life is probably not going to happen. So what about the water that still makes its way into the bathtub? We still want to be able to bail that out!
This is where stress management techniques come into play. As with everything, we are all unique individuals when it comes to what works best. I am going to list out some ideas for you here and I would love for you to experiment over the next couple of weeks and see what really works and resonates for you.
For starters, I am a firm believer that movement is key when it comes to relieving stress. Think about it. Once upon a time, a stressor looked like having a bear coming after you. What would you do? You would run! (FYI, not sure if that is actually the best advice these days, but you understand the metaphor, right?).
When you run from a threat and then you arrive somewhere safely, your body then receives the message that the threat is over and it can settle back to normal. But what if your stress comes in the form of a heated conversation or someone cutting you off in traffic? There is no physical release and so your body has no way of knowing that the threat has ended and your nervous system can settle back down.
You may not be able to run away from every stressor in your life. In fact, that would probably not be beneficial for your social life. Or your job.
But can you make time throughout your week to go on a walk or a run? Can you make time for a yoga practice or two? Do you love to hike, dance, do martial arts? Swim? Kayak? Ride a bike? The methods of movement are endless. At the end of the day, it is about doing something you love because that is what you are most likely to keep up doing.
In addition to movement, there are plenty of other techniques that can be hugely beneficial. This can include deep breathing, meditation, journaling, or even spending time with a beloved pet or a loved one. Laughter is a wonderful stress reliever!
Here’s what this looks like in my life
I always love to get the inside scoop on how other people use information that I am assimilating into my own life. I am happy to share what works for me and if it helps you in any way, feel free to use it!
I do my best to go for a walk every day. It doesn’t always happen since I am human, but I set that as my intention. Sometimes it is short and sometimes longer. I do have three French bulldogs so they help to hold me accountable for that!
Yoga is something I really love to do as well. In fact, I have been a certified yoga instructor since 2012! I try to get my butt into the studio for class at least once (preferably twice) each week. I also have one class each week that I teach in person so I have the opportunity to move with my class as well. And sometimes my yoga practice is just me doing some gentle stuff on my living room floor while I watch some TV at the end of the day.
I also meditate just about every morning when I first wake up. The exact method varies. Sometimes I will use guided meditations. Or I will use a sound to focus on. Sometimes I will do a mantra meditation or simply focus on my breath. The point of meditation really is to have a single point of focus, whatever that may be. I do have a healing meditation I recorded which I would be happy to link to at the end of this article. Feel free to use this as well!
The other tool I use more sporadically is journaling. I don’t always feel the need, so I don’t do it every day. But when I wake up and am feeling sort of anxious or scattered, it really helps me organize my thoughts. Sometimes it will be sort of a brain dump, where I just write it all out so I can release those thoughts bouncing around my head. Other times I use journaling to help me visualize the goal I am working towards. Or sometimes I will just sit down and list everything I am feeling thankful for that day.
There are so many tools you can use and this is by no means an exhaustive list. But I hope you are able to use this as a guide to start to bail some of that water out of your bathtub. It is so worth it!
Stress and endometriosis: you can do it!
We covered a lot of ground today, so I wanted to bring back some of the key takeaways here that you can bring with you as you go on through your day.
- Stress has major impacts on all areas of your body, from digestion to hormones to inflammation and so much more.
- Stress can come in the form of external stressors from the outside world and internal stressors from inside of your body. Addressing both is key!
- We want to work on managing stress from all directions: “shutting off the faucet” by reducing the amount of stress coming in and “bailing out the water” by using stress management techniques.
- Reduce internal stress by addressing digestive concerns, blood sugar regulation, inflammation, and more.
- Reduce external stress by delegating, taking things off your plate, and evaluating your top priorities in life.
- Movement is a key element of stress management. Find ways to move that you love!
- Other stress management techniques include meditation, journaling, time in nature, time with a pet or loved one, laughter, deep breathing, and so much more.
Take a deep breath and take it one day at a time, my friend. You’ve got this!
P.S. If you feel like you are finally ready to get to the root of your digestive concerns, pain, fatigue, and other issues that are causing stress in your body, I would love to help. It is my passion in life to help bring your body into harmony and into a place of healing. Click here to learn more about my Thrive With Endo program and apply today!
Nutritional Therapy Association (2021). Sleep, Stress, and Movement Module Materials [Video and PDF Documents]. https://nutritionaltherapy.com/