Endometriosis can devastate your life and plans, but by educating yourself in endometriosis self-care you can incorporate lifestyle choices that are known to reduce symptoms in many sufferers.
Living with Endometriosis
Living with endometriosis can be a challenge, especially if you are symptomatic and it is actively upending your life. Some women do not experience symptoms but later have difficulty trying to conceive and discover their endometriosis that way.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis occurs when tissue from the endometrial lining of the uterus grow outside of the uterus. For something that sounds super simplistic it is anything but as this condition is similar to cancer in its complexity of cell and organ dysfunction.
While it is largely known as a women’s issue because it affects a women’s reproductive organs and fertility, it is actually a chronic disease, with links to one’s genetics, that affects the entire body.
The systems that are impacted include the immune system (though it is considered a auto-immune-like disorder, and may co-occur with various auto-immune conditions, it is not exactly an auto-immune disorder itself), nervous system, endocrine system (such as your hormones), musculo-skeletal system, and can impact every part of your life. Typically, it also affects your social, emotional and spiritual planes as well due to its complexity.
There are several theories about the origins of endometriosis and research more and more provides a shining light into real answers. Just in the last few years alone thousands of new research papers have been published related to endometriosis, providing better ways to help over 200 million women who have the condition worldwide. The incidence is about 10%, so about 1 in 10 women will have endo throughout their life but the prevalence is on the rise. Some believe this is due to the toxicity found in modern life.
What is the best care for endometriosis?
Traditionally, those experiencing endometriosis are given synthetic hormones (usually in the form of birth control) and/or surgery and told to hope for the best. Sometimes, pharmaceuticals are given such as Lupron which halt a woman’s cycle in the hopes that the decrease in estrogen will stop “growing the endometriosis”. Whole posts and books can be written about these topics, but we won’t cover that in this post.
However, the good news is that more and more research attention is being given to endometriosis, especially in the area of non-invasive techniques and a whole body systems approach.
More and more research and experiential learning shows that women who get help with their immune dysfunction, digestion dysfunction, nutritional intake, nervous system and other key areas are more likely to reduce or halt their symptoms’ expression. Surgery can be an important factor in healing endometriosis, but the timing, surgeon and type of surgery can make a world of different in your future healing as well.
While there is no “one quick fix” there are things you can educate yourself about in order to help your body function as optimally as possible.
For example, you may have the genes for endometriosis in your body already at conception (it is one theory) but the full expression of those genes may get turned on over time during illness, period of stress, and other lifestyle factors that are prevalent in the world in which we live.
The best endometriosis self care is care in which you are informed, educated and feel right about. And, given that so much research has come out in the last few years about endometriosis, this endometriosis self care may mean working with up to date practitioners, learning to read the research yourself, and getting educated about how to structure your life in a way that promotes your healing.
Self-Care for Endometriosis Tips
While it is really important to seek a proper medical diagnosis and talk with a doctor about treatment options, it is also very important to advocate for yourself which includes understand some of the latest research on endometriosis and its related symptoms. I use the research to drive recommendations on endometriosis self care though please know that every person is different and may need different levels of self care in coordination with proper health care advice from your doctor.
- Improve your digestion – Hippocrates once stated that health begins in the gut. In fact, your immune system is housed in the gut as well! Many women who are diagnosed with endometriosis also experience food allergies, bloating, constipation and diarrhea which involve troubled guts. Learn more about endometriosis self care for your digestion in the post I wrote, and learn how meal time can be an important part of your symptom alleviation and recovery.
- Practice deep diaphragm breathing – When you breath in deeply, you activate your diaphragm muscle which is known to help move lymph around in your body, a component of helping your immune system do its job. Taking the time to breathe deeply can also help with digestion, constipation relief, stress reduction, eating disorders, hypertension and anxiety according to researcher Hidetaka Hamasaki of Japan. This is helpful for endometriosis self care because it will help your immune system, nervous system and digestion which are all usually impacted in endometriosis.
- Move your body – For similar reasons as deep breathing, moving your body will help to provide blood circulation which helps nutrients move around in the body, blood flow and lymph. Movement also helps to alleviate muscle tension, stress and activates detoxification pathways. Ancestrally, we evolved to walk upright, move with power to hunt, and bend to gather.
- Affirmations – Also known as positive self talk and positive thinking, affirmations play a role in helping your brain develop positive neural pathways and stop using negative neural pathways. Why does this matter? Negative thinking can actually cause your neuro-endocrine system to malfunction and send stress hormones throughout your body. There are also genes that express differently depending upon a cascade of stress hormones happening and environmental factors at play. Affirming what is true, good and beautiful can help you focus on what is working and your body will thank you for it. Making affirmations part of your endometriosis self care starting tonight.
- Find a supportive community– Did you know that having positive personal connections and interactions can help your immune system function appropriately? And negative or stressful associations can hinder your immune’s functioning? According to the National Research Council (US) Committee on Future Directions for Behavioral and Social Sciences Research at the National Institutes of Health, adversity can lead to more negative genetic expressions (and more endo dysfunction in some cases). So, find a community that understands you, supports you and helps you feel good. It matters for your healing and wellness!
- Put together a team of health care providers and get a comprehensive workup – Sometimes endometriosis self care means not relying only on yourself for healing, because many of us myself included needed a team to begin to move the needle towards less/no pain and to stop the multi-system organ dysfunction. What does a comprehensive workup mean? Most traditional OB/GYN physicians (specialists) will run some additional tests from what your general practitioner may run, such as a more comprehensive hormone panel. I found that I needed to look outside of the traditional Western health care system to find a specialist who could recommend extensive lab work, interpret it from a functional viewpoint (versus allopathic viewpoint) and provide access to holistic treatment that actually helped. It was like finding a needle in a haystack and I wished I had access to this level of care decades ago.
- Make space in your life for healing – If you realize that your sleep is not great, your self-talk is negative, your surroundings are stressful, you have major stressors in your life, you aren’t eating well or don’t know how to eat well and you feel more awful that you would like, chances are you may benefit from making space for healing. Making space for healing is an intentional and honest assessment of what is in your life currently and making an endometriosis self care plan a priority. Need some help? Check out my post on how to create an ordered life based upon your priorities.
- Keep track of your cycle – If you are already tracking your cycle, you may already know how much information can be gleaned about your health. In fact, a woman’s tracked cycle is considered one of the measures of woman’s health. Understanding your body’s rhythm could be considered endometriosis self care because you will be more empowered and knowledgeable.
Endometriosis Self-Care: Putting It All Together
Will this list of tips cure your endometriosis symptoms and disease expression? Unlikely. However, they are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to endometriosis self care.
How do you treat endometriosis yourself? Well, you may desire to save some time and money by treating your endometriosis yourself. In some cases, self care for endometriosis will alleviate symptoms for some women. However, it is more practical to seek the help of a qualified medical opinion for diagnosis, treatment options and even a health coach to help you navigate the best plan for your going forward.
What is a healthy lifestyle for endometriosis? This may look a little bit different for everyone, but usually involves some kind of nutrient therapy, immune system evaluation and support, social/emotional/spiritual support, and physical support in the very least. While it can sound overwhelming if you are at the beginning of your journey, it may only involve some simple changes.
For others, like myself, I needed a lifestyle overhaul to begin to tame my symptoms, which involved a lot of time and continuing education as far as the latest research and lifestyle enhancements. It is an ongoing process as I continue to learn how best to support my body, understand what it needs and make time in my schedule to prioritize that.
What is Your Plan?
How are you doing? If you are already doing all of these recommendations, you are doing great even if finetunement would be helpful. If you are not doing any of these things, which area seems the most doable or interesting right away?
Need help getting started with tracking your period? Check out this period tracking chart to get you started.
What self-care do you turn to the most with having endometriosis or other chronic health conditions?
1 – National Research Council (US) Committee on Future Directions for Behavioral and Social Sciences Research at the National Institutes of Health; Singer BH, Ryff CD, editors. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2001.