High Functioning Anxiety: Watch Out For This Overlooked Symptom That Affects Most Women!

Irregular periods and other tell-tale signs of PCOS could be secretly fuelling your anxiety! 

Working from home in your PJs with your snacks within your hands reach can sound like fun...but it is anything but. During the pandemic, the proverbial cheese has been moved around so much that more young employees are falling prey to burnouts and anxiety.   

Obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Sushma Tomar, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan agrees. With stress levels at an all-time high due to future uncertainty and job insecurity, high-functioning anxiety has become quite a common diagnosis across age groups. 

"This means that the patient is often able to accomplish tasks and appear to function well in social situations, but internally they feel all the same symptoms of anxiety disorder, including intense feelings of impending doom, fear, anxiety, rapid heart rate, gastrointestinal distress. Interestingly, most people with high-functioning anxiety have also been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). There is a lot of scientific evidence that shows a strong link between PCOS and anxiety," says Dr Tomar.

She explains further:

What is the connection between PCOS and anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural and healthy emotion. It is a vital feeling because it alerts people to pay attention to important issues or warns of potential danger. However, when it comes to anxiety disorder, the fear response becomes exaggerated; a person becomes anxious and fearful in situations that do not call for it. Anxiety and depression are also said to cause severe health issues for women of reproductive age, including PCOS, among many other problems.

Meanwhile, PCOS is the most common endocrine disorder among women of reproductive age. It impacts many aspects of a person’s health including mental health. Some of the common symptoms include Amenorrhea (absence of menstruation), Hirsutism (abnormal hair growth on a woman's face and body), infertility, obesity, acne vulgaris, and androgenic alopecia (balding patterns). PCOS is a condition that affects a woman's mental health, and quality of life. This aspect has not received adequate attention in India.

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Some women with PCOS may also have insulin resistance which can result in higher levels of insulin in the bloodstream. Some studies have linked this with an increased risk for depression. PCOS patients also have elevated androgen levels (a group of hormones including testosterone) that also makes them more susceptible to anxiety and depression.

Dr Tomar also points out that women with PCOS who have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression may have lower levels of certain neurotransmitters. These are chemicals that send signals throughout the brain and nervous system such as Serotonin, that is associated with positive feelings. According to some scientific studies low levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters are likely to increase the symptoms of mental health issues.

What can you do?

Dr Tomar says, "Women who have PCOS-linked anxiety and notice changes in their mood, can talk to their doctor about various treatment options to tackle their depression and anxiety. It is important to note that low-calorie diets in combination with exercise certainly help. Leading an active lifestyle, in general, may help improve mental health. Women with PCOS who exercise regularly have fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression. In fact, Yoga practice that includes poses, guided relaxation, breathing exercises, and meditation may also improve symptoms of anxiety."