For many adults, anxious feelings can turn up at any corner. It can be caused by excess caffeine, local or global events, or even an ex-partner. So, it shouldn’t be too hard to believe that anxiety is a possible symptom of certain hormone imbalances.
Hormones are your body’s chemical messengers that send signals to different parts of your body. They’re responsible for regulating many different processes like growth and development, metabolism, sexual function, reproduction, and mood. If your hormones become imbalanced (meaning your levels are too high or too low), they can interfere with a variety of your body’s normal processes—causing a variety of complications, including anxiety.
While there could be a number of reasons why a person experiences anxiety, symptoms unrelated to trauma, loss, a major life event, or a mental health condition may be attributed to a hormonal imbalance. Read on or skip to our infographic as we go into more detail on the relationship between hormones and anxiety, and provide tips that can help manage or relieve these feelings.
While anxiety is commonly seen in individuals with certain hormone imbalances and vice versa, it can be hard to know which came first, or if one is contributing to the other. Both sexes can suffer from a hormonal imbalance; however, there are significantly more females than males that are affected, putting females at a greater risk of hormone-related anxiety.
Why? Women may have a higher risk for developing anxiety disorders during different phases of their reproductive lives where hormones fluctuate drastically, such as puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, postpartum, perimenopause, and postmenopause.
Unfortunately, hormones and anxiety can be a bit of a chicken and an egg situation. It’s thought to be possible for hormonal imbalances to cause anxiety, and anxiety to cause a hormonal imbalance.
A good step to take towards minimizing hormone-related anxiety is understanding some of the types of hormones that can affect your mood and response to stress. These hormones may include sex hormones, stress hormones, thyroid hormones, and oxytocin. While they each play pivotal roles in the functioning of your body’s processes, too much or too little could cause complications.
Fluctuating levels of estrogen and testosterone, which are considered sex hormones, may play a role in how much anxiety you experience. Changing levels in these hormones can affect your mood. This is why anxiety sometimes tends to peak during times of hormonal change such as puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause.
Estrogen affects mood. For females, estrogen levels are higher during the first two weeks of the menstrual cycle (follicular phase) and can induce higher levels of serotonin—which is your “happiness hormone.” However, during the luteal phase (last ~2 weeks of a 28-day cycle), estrogen levels dramatically drop if pregnancy has not occurred. This fluctuation is often accompanied by changes in mood or increased anxiety. In fact, as many as 80% of reproductive-age women experience at least one physical, mood, or anxiety symptom during this part of their period.
In general, females tend to experience more anxiety than males. One hypothesis that may partially explain this observation is that low testosterone is linked to increased anxiety. Testosterone, often called the male hormone, also exists in females—but in concentrations about 10 times lower. Clinical evidence suggests that testosterone has positive effects on anxiety and depression in both women and men. However, the underlying mechanism of its protective effects is still poorly understood.
The stress hormones, otherwise known and cortisol and adrenaline, are released in situations where you feel threatened or in danger. These stress hormones are released to initiate your fight-or-flight response to help you cope with the threat and get your body prepared to take action.
That said, if an event or experience triggers your stress hormones while you’re not actually in danger, let’s say while reading a stressful work email, you won’t use or release those hormones during a fight-or-flight response. This can cause excess levels of cortisol and adrenaline and can leave your body feeling anxious.
What’s more, an increase in stress hormones can cause your body to release even more stress hormones in response, which can leave your body stressed and anxious.
Thyroid hormones can affect your mood, and an imbalance can impact how you feel both physically and mentally. Feelings of anxiety, restlessness, irritability, and/or nervousness can be common symptoms of an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism). On the other end of the spectrum is an underactive thyroid, symptoms of which can include fatigue or feelings of depression.
What’s more, a recent study suggests that autoimmune inflammation of the thyroid could play a significant role in the development of anxiety disorders. The study examined 76 patients with anxiety disorder and found that 71 patients had an increase in blood flow to the thyroid gland, a sign of thyroid inflammation, linking abnormalities of the thyroid to their levels of anxiety.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety, nervousness, or irritability, consider testing the levels of your thyroid hormones, and seeing a healthcare provider to discuss your results. They may recommend thyroid management medications or other methods to reduce or alleviate your symptoms.
Some hormones have a positive impact on anxiety and may help reduce it, like oxytocin. Oxytocin is often called the “love hormone” as the brain emits this when hugging, cuddling, having sex, and even when a mother breastfeeds.
Oxytocin modulates anxiety, aggression, and the stress/fear response when one is introduced to different types of stimuli. Anxiety and emotional responsiveness to stress may be reduced during periods of high oxytocin activity in the body such as lactation and sexual activity.
Hormones imbalances can feel like an emotional rollercoaster. Fortunately, there are several natural ways to support balanced hormones to reduce feelings of hormone-related anxiety.
Learn how to manage stress: We now know that stress can cause the production of more stress hormones, creating a vicious cycle. Relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga have been shown to help some individuals manage their stress and anxiety levels.
Improve your diet: Research shows that filling your diet with fiber-rich foods, fermented foods, and omega-3s can reduce levels of stress/anxiety and potentially improve mental health.
Get enough sleep: Poor sleep has been linked to imbalances of many hormones. If you’re suffering from anxiety, take a look at your sleep routine and see where you might be able to make improvements.
If you suspect you may have a hormonal imbalance, consider testing your hormone levels. This can give you and your primary healthcare provide clarity on whether your anxiety is a symptom of a hormonal imbalance. Anxiety can be debilitating, so be sure to seek guidance from a mental health professional and/or call this national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Sources: Hormone Health Network | National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine | National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine | National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine | National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine | Harvard Health | Mayo Clinic | Endocrinology Network | National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine | Harvard Health | Mayo Clinic | Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences