Those with pelvic and menstrual issues are increasingly turning to lifestyle consultations. This holistic approach focuses on healing the physical, mental, spiritual, and social needs.
·October 7th, 2021
Chronic menstrual and pelvic health issues impact many adults. Many people increasingly find that lifestyle consultations and changes can improve their symptoms.
Lifestyle changes can include changes in diet, exercise and sleep patterns.
Behavioral therapy including cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as stress management or mindfulness focused therapy have also shown to be impactful.
Specialists like nutritionists, dietitians or behavioral therapists can help you manage symptom and make lifestyle changes.
Women and people with ovaries have always had unique challenges with their physical health – from a young age, they may start to experience mood swings, PMS, and pelvic pain associated with their menstrual cycle. As they age, a percentage of people may experience endometriosis or PCOS. Later in life they go through perimenopause and menopause.
These ever-evolving life changes and chronic conditions can have profound impacts on physical, mental and emotional health. Thus lifestyle consultations and changes can be an important part of holistic health care.
Symptoms and lifestyle impacts
The symptoms of these conditions can be difficult to manage. But living with these conditions and changes themselves can often cause stress, sleep problems, anxiety, and depression because of their impacts on quality of life and body image.
Clinical studies have shown that those with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menstrual cramps have higher levels of anxiety, sleep problems, and difficulty concentrating, as well as higher irritability and higher likelihood to be sad or depressed than those without PMS.
Further studies have shown that up to 15% of those with endometriosis have a diagnosis of depression and 29% have been diagnosed with anxiety. 50% of those in the study also reported that their pain reduced their physical, sexual and work activity over the prior 3 months.
One approach that those with pelvic and menstrual issues are turning to is lifestyle consultations. This holistic approach focuses on healing and considering the whole person, including the mental, spiritual, and social needs alongside the physical needs.
Types of lifestyle consultations and changes
Diet and nutrition changes
Beyond just weight management, diet and nutrition can often have a profound impact on menstrual and pelvic symptoms and conditions. Multiple studies have linked dietary patterns with an increase or decrease in premenstrual symptoms. For example, a 2019 study showed that high calorie, high fat, high sugar, and high salt foods were associated with an increase in premenstrual syndrome symptoms.
And a 2020 study found that patients with endometriosis who changed their diet experienced decreased symptoms and increased wellbeing. However, since each of us have unique needs, it is important to work closely with your health practitioner, nutritionist, or dietician to develop the program that best suits your needs and particular issues.
It is no surprise that exercise is a key component of any healthy lifestyle and can have profound impacts on your weight, obesity, and health. However, increasing evidence has demonstrated that exercise is an important part of managing menstrual and pelvic health and associated symptoms. In particular, those with PCOS have been shown to benefit from exercise, even independent of diet and other lifestyle factors.
While there is only directional evidence of the benefits to PMS and dysmenorrhea from exercise, most studies conclude that exercise is beneficial and an effective part of any treatment plan.
Behavioral & mental health therapy
Because there is such a strong connection between the body and mind, behavioral and mental health therapy are a part of any lifestyle consultations and changes that need to occur.
One particularly effective treatment for menstrual conditions is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Through this short-term, structured process you’ll work with a trained therapist to diagnose the thinking that is negatively impacting your chronic illness. For example, you might keep a diary and self-monitor your moods and problem behaviors. Then, you will build skills and tools that help change those negative thought patterns.
You practice these skills through ‘homework’ assignments and review these assignments over time with your therapist. Your therapist might also include other tools focused on relaxation techniques and overall stress management. Results have shown that those who have used this type of therapy for PMS had substantial improvements in their mental state.
Stress can have a detrimental effect on your menstrual cycle and stress management is an important part of any lifestyle consultation and associated changes. Two types of techniques that can help are Mindfulness Therapy and Stress Management Therapy. A holistic practitioner can work through these and other stress management skills with you.
Mindfulness Focused Therapy: Mindfulness techniques were developed by Shakyamuni Buddha over 2500 years ago. These techniques focus on bringing awareness to your present state of mind through your senses, thoughts and emotions. This process of focusing on present-moment experiences works to calm the mind and release fixation. A trained mindfulness focused therapist can guide you through meditation techniques to improve your emotional wellbeing. Mindfulness therapy has been proven to help women with many issues, such as PMS and PCOS.
Stress Management Therapy: Through relaxation, breathing techniques and mindfulness techniques, a therapist will help you develop skills to improve your stress management.
Improving sleep habits
Sleep habits are a key contributor to mental health and stress management. You should aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night and other healthy sleep habits. Unfortunately, many of the symptoms that those with PMS, dysmenorrhea, endometriosis, and menopause experience can actually disrupt sleep.
For example, people with endometriosis had poorer sleep quality and lower quality of life scores relative to those without endometriosis. Also, approximately 26% of those with menopause experience sleep issues that are severe enough to impact daytime functioning and qualify as insomnia. This can cause a negative cycle of sleep.
Thus it is even more important to work with a practitioner to develop healthy sleep habits. Examples of some healthy sleep habits a practitioner might include:
Keeping electronics away from the sleeping area
Stopping the use of electronic devices at least 1 hour before bedtime
Having a bedtime routine – example, reading, or drinking tea before bed
Going to bed at the same time each night
Changing environmental factors
Your lifestyle consultation might also include looking at your environment and what factors are contributing to or exacerbating your issues. These can include how allergens impact you, how antibiotic use is impacting you, even understanding other factors such as what cleaning products you use and whether you’re exposed to other pesticides, exposed to second-hand smoke or smoke.
Lifestyle consultations and lifestyle changes that can positively impact your health will be unique to each individual. It is important to work with specialists such as nutritionists, dieticians or behavioral therapists in addition to your primary care provider to determine your custom needs.
Many also seek out holistic health practitioners who can help them evaluate their lifestyle changes holistically. Ultimately, making changes to your lifestyle can help you create a holistic chronic illness management plan and improve your quality of life. See our list of qualified providers to find one to suit your individual needs.