Tis the season for a lot of over indulgence. We drink alcohol, we eat sugar rich food, we go out, see friends and family, don’t sleep as well, endure social anxiety, present buying anxiety, family politics and if you have been trying a baby and your PCOS has affected your fertility, Christmas can be a really difficult time.
By the time January and February come around, many women find their PCOS symptoms have worsened, menstrual cycles get further disrupted, even more fatigue than usual and any resolutions just go out the window because you’re just so overwhelmed and exhausted with how you’re feeling.
I’m 100% not the party police and absolutely believe in sharing good times with friends. However, as you will be becoming more aware, your body with PCOS is more sensitive to these changes in routine so it is a good idea to support your body where you can to help minimise the impact that the festivities can have.
If you have lots of parties to go to
I used to work in the alcohol industry so I know how tough it can be to go on a night out and try to avoid alcohol – but the truth is, it really is a hormone disruptor. Your liver has to work even harder than it already is to clear out your hormones (this is ones of your liver’s key jobs) but if there’s alcohol in your system it’ll prioritise that. Your body is clever, it’s constantly trying to help you. I know with PCOS it can feel like it’s broken but it really isn’t. It’s just a bit confused.
The other problem with alcohol and PCOS is that your body sees it has sugar. This throws off your blood sugar balance and can heighten insulin resistance which is a problem for many women with PCOS. Imbalanced blood sugar can create the conditions for more hormones to be produced in the wrong amounts and make symptoms worse.
Things you can do to try and support your body:
- Don’t drink alcohol on an empty stomach – it’s really important if you have PCOS. Don’t try and save calories or not eat to fit into a tight dress (I know, I’ve been there). Have something with protein and fat. You don’t have to have a full blown meal – a handful of unsalted nuts, a boiled egg and some avocado with some oat cakes are small snacks which can make a big difference.
- Try and limit yourself to 2 alcohol drinks per day.
- Drink water throughout the day – this is really a time to steer clear of fizzy drinks, even diet versions. Hydrate with water.
- Choose alcohol that’s less sugary – cocktails with lots of fruit juice are going to cause increased blood sugar issues, opt for a good glass of wine, hard seltzers or vodka soda with fresh lime juice. Go for savouring and enjoying rather than volume.
- Choose no or low alcohol options – there are SO many great choices out there these days and can really allow you to enjoy going out without the need to mess up your hormones.
Saying all of this, one of my favourite drinks at Christmas is Bailey’s and I’m not going to deny myself having one or two. But I’ll do it after a meal, I’ll make sure I’m hydrated with water and I’ll savour it.
Depending on where you are in your PCOS journey, the decision to drink is up to you – 8 years ago I stopped all alcohol completely as I was really trying to get my symptoms under control. Now I have a small amount every now and again, as my symptoms are more manageable. This change did not happen overnight.
If you’re feeling stressed or anxious
Christmas can be a really overwhelming time if you have PCOS. Questions about how much you’re eating, when you’re having children, choosing clothes that you feel good in, socialising and having to cover up bad skin and facial hair can make it a really tough time. Feelings and emotions can really be magnified around this time. If you children, the pressure to make everything magical can add to even more stress when you’re struggling so much yourself.
PCOS doesn’t give you a break and it can feel a bit relentless. It’s easy for frustration to build up. Add in Christmas and New Year expectations and your body can find itself stuck in a chronic stress situation.
This affects your hormones in a number of ways as it drives up cortisol which is your stress hormone. Cortisol in amounts that are too high, cause a cascade of problems for your other hormones as cortisol in your blood is telling your brain something is not safe and therefore the usual process of supporting your body to follow it’s natural cycle gets thrown off.
This can also have a knock on effect on your sleep quality – throw in the alcohol and late nights and your body has a hard time to navigate this.
What can you do to manage your stress levels?
Cover off as many of the basics that you can to help support your body when cortisol levels are rising. Stress isn’t something any of us can avoid but how we deal with it and how resilient our bodies are to it, can make all the difference to how our PCOS symptoms respond.
- The busy time of Christmas and cold outdoor temperatures can mean we stop moving as much as we would normally. Make time to keep your body moving – this isn’t about weight loss and full impact exercises that in some situations drive up cortisol even more. Walking, yoga, pilates, gentle cycling, weights or resistance band workouts all just help your body deal with stress better.
- After eating sugary foods (I see you with those chocolate boxes!) or a big meal, go for a 10 minute walk – it can really make a difference on how your body responds to the sugar and process it better, reducing your symptoms in the longer term.
- One of my favourites is box breathing, where you breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds and then out for 4 seconds, hold for 4 and then start again, doing 20 rounds (I use my fingers to count). It’s free, simple and take 5 minutes of time to sit down and do the rounds. This practice helps calm your nervous system and again helps your body manage stress.
Prioritise your sleep
- Sleep can be a tricky one for many people and many women with PCOS struggle. If there’s one thing you can do to make a start on supporting your body, sleep is it. If you have nights in the week where you’re not out, make a sleep routine your focus. Get off screens 2 hours before bed, reduce bright lights, don’t watch the news, make sure your room is a comfortable temperature, not too hot but not too cold, have a bath with some magnesium salts, read a book. Use a sleep mask especially if your room has outside light coming in. Nothing needs to be over complicated but you do need to choose to focus on it. These changes don’t just happen by chance.
- Really think about healthy boundaries that you want to create this year that support you and your body. PCOS can keep on giving you more symptoms until you feel like you’re going to break. Sit down and think about what your potential triggers are and what you might be able to do about them.
- If you know there's a specific family member who’s going to ask ‘when are you going to have children then?’ Consider your reply, practice it ahead of time and feel confident in delivering it. Then move away from them. This is easier said than done I know but you need to spend time around people who lift you up, not bring you down. PCOS can be hard for others to understand but if they truly love you and care for you, they will take the time to respect what you’re going through and respond appropriately.
PCOS doesn’t need to dominate or ruin everything you do over Christmas and New Year, but I encourage you to think about your mindset and how you approach the situations you end up in.
Visualise the best version of yourself that could show up to support your PCOS with some of these simple adjustments, and it will respond.
Imagine starting off 2023 feeling like you were reconnecting with your body and that PCOS is a part of you that you don’t hate.
It’s possible. That would be the true magic this Christmas.