Research of the mind-body connection is gaining ground in mainstream science, no longer relegated to “alternative” medicine. We now know, in a deeper and more detailed way, how thoughts and feelings can affect our physical health and well-being. This is a concept I think we all understand instinctively, and often relate to in our own lives, but it’s good to see the science support our shared experience.In previous posts, I’ve talked about how emotions can affect your menstrual cycle— how stress can delay or even suppress ovulation, as well as contribute to hormonal health issues such as PCOS and PMS.
I’ve talked at length about emotions and endometriosis, ovarian cysts, and uterine fibroids. In today’s post, and in honor of Mother’s Day, I explore how we can mother ourselves better by attending to the emotional root causes of our hormonal issues. If you suffer from reproductive issues like endometriosis, PCOS, uterine fibroids, and ovarian cysts, it’s important to pay attention to nutrition and lifestyle, but you may find even more healing by engaging in tender, loving, and maternal emotional self-care.
Emotions and Reproductive Health: An Overview
While it’s critical to look at the root causes of hormone imbalances from a functional nutrition standpoint, you can support —and improve — your chances for long-term recovery by tending to the emotional root causes of hormonal conditions. That’s because there are neurological, endocrine, and immunological conversations at work in every one of us that reflect our emotional state. The emotional patterns behind ovarian cysts, fibroids, endometriosis, and other conditions are common to many women and represent a shared female experience. Understanding this aspect is an opportunity to have compassion for ourselves and for other women.Your female reproductive organs (uterus, ovaries, vagina) act as a “low heart” and hold many of the unconscious, deeper emotions that your “high heart” is not yet ready to process. The emotions are held here, only to be released once you’ve processed the source of these held feelings. This thinking has its origins in Jungian psychology. A student of Jung, Marion Woodman, developed the concept of “feminine psychology” and her work details how unconsciously held emotions, feelings, and thoughts can affect the female body. One element of Woodman’s work focuses on how women feel about their bodies. Many of us are brought up to be fearful and distrustful of our bodies, and she believed this has a significant impact on our health. She theorized that the unconscious trauma experienced by many women — as the result of individually experienced acts of abuse and violence and as the result of cultural oppression — can manifest itself in physical symptoms.
Your Emotions and Ovarian Cysts
Functional ovarian cysts are small fluid-filled sacs that grow on the ovaries, often cyclically and in connection with your hormonal shifts. There are two kinds of functional ovarian cysts: follicle cysts and corpus luteum cysts. Follicle cysts happen when the ovary follicle does not open to release an egg and instead stays closed. Corpus luteum cysts happen when the follicle releases an egg but then does not seal and close off afterwards. Functional ovarian cysts are very common. Many women have them at some point during their lives, but not all will have symptoms. It’s possible for a cyst to grow very large if left untreated and even burst, requiring immediate surgery. Ovarian cysts, especially those that are symptomatic and recurrent, may be a sign of unfulfilled creative expression. Energetically speaking, ovarian cysts tend to represent blocked creative desire or ideas that don’t fully blossom in one’s life. It’s important to remember, however, that this block has nothing to do with your personal choices and everything to do with the position of women in society and how we are conditioned to organize our lives. Many women put childcare and housework needs before their own or work always comes first. Making shifts in how we prioritize our own self care can be part of a broader protocol in addressing ovarian cysts. For an even deeper dive on the connection between emotions and ovarian cysts, click here.
Your Emotions and Uterine Fibroids
Uterine fibroids are benign uterine growths that can range in size from a pea to a melon. Symptoms can vary from none at all to heavy or painful periods, bleeding between periods, pain during intercourse, and lower back pain.Experts aren’t entirely sure what causes fibroids. What we do know is that fibroids are affected by our hormones, specifically that excess estrogen in the body seems to make them grow. Fibroids often decrease in size after menopause (when overall body estrogen is lower). So addressing excess estrogen in the body’s ecosystem can help. Stress and unprocessed anger may play a role in developing that toxic internal environment where problems like fibroids thrive. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) points to a connection between the emotional state and fibroid growth. In TCM, fibroids are linked to the energy of the Sacral Chakra or Second Chakra. Abuse, trauma, blocked creativity, and resentment can all act as chakra blocks. More and more research indicates how stress can impact our physical health. Stress weakens the immune system and suppresses the overall optimal function of the body. An increase in cortisol, the stress hormone, causes an imbalance in progesterone – creating progesterone deficiency and estrogen dominance. If you have uterine fibroids, it’s important to address estrogen dominance, but investigating your relationship with stress and anger—and finding healthy outlets for their expression—can play a role in healing fibroids. This can mean managing daily stress levels, prioritizing self-care, and elevating the amount of pleasure in your life.To read more about uterine fibroids and emotions, click here.
Your Emotions and PCOS
The connection between PCOS and emotions goes back to your first period. For many women, their first period is traumatic and confusing (thanks to a culture that doesn’t celebrate menstruation). This initial subconscious response can twist itself into the (erroneous) belief that your female body is a burden. Many young girls with PCOS have erratic periods during their first years of menstruation and this can add to the feeling of burden and hormonal whiplash.Over time this disconnection from one’s body can transform into a negative self image and self-critical thinking. Negative self talk can have harmful effects on your hormonal health. This self-talk might be “I’m fat” or “I’m not pretty enough” or it might be “I’ll have PCOS forever” or “My body will never work like it’s supposed to.” When you say these things to yourself, your body hears—and takes you seriously. Your body reacts with a stress-response and this is how those words become obstacles to your body’s healing and recovery. What you think about your body shows up in your periods.With PCOS, as with every hormonal condition, diet and lifestyle changes are also essential components of treatment, including taking the right supplements, eating the right foods for PCOS, and avoiding foods that trigger symptoms. How women with PCOS feel about their bodies is just one factor, but it’s a factor that I think deserves attention.Stopping the pattern of self-criticism that drives many of us, and not just those of us who suffer with PCOS, was part of my personal process in managing my PCOS and putting it into remission, and it’s part of the process I help women through here at FLO Living.For an in-depth post I wrote specifically on the connection between PCOS and emotions, go here.
Your Emotions and Endometriosis
Endometriosis is a serious reproductive health issue with debilitating symptoms. When a woman comes to me at FLO Living with endometriosis I share guidance on dietary triggers for those symptoms and lifestyle changes that can ease symptoms. That’s not all. Endometriosis requires a comprehensive strategy for management, addressing the health of the microbiome, liver health, inflammation, and excess estrogen.For many women, the Emotion-Endometriosis connection is all about taking care of others more than taking care of yourself. Many women put partners, parents, siblings, or children first and that comes at the expense of our own health and well-being. And as the saying goes, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” With endometriosis, the uterus seems to mirror this “put others first” behavior by having the material of the womb—the endometrium, or the first maternal embrace an embryo receives—grow outside of the womb in an attempt to mother the woman who isn’t mothering herself. When this causes painful symptoms, the thinking goes, a woman is forced to put her own needs first. The emotional root of endometriosis is by no means the only root cause of endometriosis, but it’s an element that I have found to be important in my work with endometriosis sufferers at FLO Living. As I’ve said before, this has nothing to do with your personal choices in your life, and everything to do with the position of women in society, and how we are conditioned to organize our lives and act towards ourselves. Your uterus is offering you a gift, an opportunity to reflect on your patterns and revise them for not only better health, but a happier life. If you want to learn even more about the emotional root causes of endometriosis, click here.
Always remember, that once you have the right information about how your body really works, you can start making health choices that finally start to work for you! You can do this – the science of your body is on your side!
To you FLO,