Are My Hormones Messing with My Anxiety?
Because mental health and hormone health have a stronger connection than you might realize.
If you suffer from anxiety, you know all too well the debilitating effects it can have: panic attacks, restlessness, and, weirdly, fatigue. That’s because when your body and mind is hyped up all the time, exhaustion follows. And you can get into a cycle of panic, trembling, insomnia…then a huge crash.
But as a society, we’re so used to thinking of anxiety as a purely psychological problem. What would happen if we took your hormone health into account, since it’s so intimately connected to brain function, emotional processing, and energy?
There’s fascinating research into this area, so let’s jump right in. First up: estrogen.
HOW ESTROGEN LEVELS AFFECT YOUR ANXIETY
Did you know that depression and anxiety disorders are twice as common in women as in men? While the gender disparity isn’t yet known, researchers are now taking a closer look at estrogen levels, and how they might affect anxiety. As Taylor Beck at The Harvard Gazette reports,
“Estrogen calms the fear response in healthy women and female rats, according to the Harvard researchers, who were led by Kelimer Lebron-Milad, an HMS instructor of psychiatry. The Emory researchers, led by postdoctoral researcher Ebony Glover, showed that the same is true for women suffering from PTSD. The higher the estrogen was in their blood when they trained on a fear-extinction task, the less likely women were to startle.”
The research also suggests that “low estrogen levels can make women more vulnerable to trauma at some points in their menstrual cycles, while high levels of the female sex hormone can partially protect them from emotional disturbance.”
What’s more, there’s a reason that menopause is often called “the second adolescence,” and it has to do with changing estrogen levels. “…anxiety often peaks during times of hormonal change such as during puberty, at certain times of the menstrual cycle in women, and during menopause in women,” writes Arlin Cuncic at VeryWell Mind. Peaks! Anxiety is at its highest when our hormone levels are changing, and not just any hormones – primarily, our estrogen.
That’s because when estrogen is optimal, it has a calming effect on the brain. But what the science now shows is that when levels are too high or too low, or your ratio of estrogen to progesterone is off, anxiety can get triggered. All because estrogen levels weren’t where they were supposed to be.
HOW CORTISOL AND ADRENALINE AFFECT YOUR ANXIETY
Estrogen is one thing, but these hormones are probably the most intuitive “culprits” when we’re trying to figure out why anxiety symptoms appear. You may know cortisol and adrenaline as your “stress” hormones, but as with the rest of your endocrine system, everything is interconnected.
As Cuncic writes:
“When you experience a stressful social or performance situation, your body responds by releasing hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to help you cope with the threat and prepare you for action. However, in the face of no actual physical threat, excess levels of these hormones leave you feeling anxious, to the point that you may even experience a panic attack or the feeling of needing to escape.
This becomes a vicious cycle, in that the hormones cause anxiety, and the anxiety and stress cause the hormones to be released.”
Think of it this way: you’re driving your car along the highway, and all of a sudden, someone tries to change lanes into yours. You swerve out of the way, but just in time before a collision – your heart racing, cars next to you slamming on their horns (and maybe their brakes), and you screaming: “WHAT AN IDIOT!!”
At that very moment, your body has shot out a huge dose of adrenaline, your “get up and go” hormone, to energetically prepare you for quick action in the face of danger. Moments later, you’re also beginning to feel the effects of cortisol, which is responsible for suppressing other bodily functions (digestion, sex, immunity, etc.) so that full resources (like blood and calories) can be devoted to fighting off this threat.
These stress hormones can be life-saving. But when they get called upon too much? They can be life debilitating. When you’ve got excess adrenaline racing around your body, with no immediate threat in front of you, it can make your brain feel like there is actually still a threat. In short? It’s a perfect storm for anxiety.
HOW PROGESTERONE LEVELS AFFECT YOUR ANXIETY
Now we come to progesterone, whose levels also change around perimenopause and menopause, and these have a significant impact on anxiety. As Sarah Rayner at Psychology Today writes:
“…along with lowering estrogen, reducing progesterone is one of the hallmarks of our ovaries shutting down. Progesterone acts as a natural sedative, softening and balancing the effects of estrogen and promoting sleep. Because progesterone is a woman’s ‘calming’ hormone, with less of it around it makes complete sense that we may feel more overwhelmed and easily stressed, anxious, edgy and short tempered. In many women, this leads to symptoms such as tension headaches, palpitations, digestive issues and more – and, in some cases, full-blown panic disorder.”
As we’ve discussed before on this blog, progesterone is responsible for nearly all the mental and physical traits associated with youth and vitality in a younger woman, and that includes a sense of “chill.” Progesterone is responsible for maintaining hormonal equilibrium, it helps relax your body’s connective tissues, and can induce restful sleep.
Now, imagine the opposite of all those qualities: whacked out hormones, bodily tension and trembling, and insomnia. Sounds like anxiety!
We’ve listed progesterone here last for a reason. There are a variety of ways to ease your hormones back into a healthful state, including:
- Meditation (to ease cortisol and adrenaline)
- Exercise (to ease everything)
- A whole foods diet with an emphasis on omega-3 fats, nutrients from brightly-colored vegetables, and minerals from supplements and organic protein sources (to help your glands generate the correct neurotransmitters and hormones)
But one of the most important things? Getting your progesterone levels back to a healthy place, since they are so critical for hormonal equilibrium in general.
Chaste tree berry (also known as Vitex) offers a lifeline to women looking to naturally boost their progesterone levels, which is why we include it in our Asensia formula. It’s a medicinally potent plant that doesn’t supply hormones to the body, but does act directly on the hypothalamus and pituitary glands to help you produce more progesterone.
Here’s to better mental health, by improving your precious hormone health!
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ADDITIONAL LINKS + RESOURCES:
 “Estrogen and female anxiety,” read more at: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2012/08/estrogen-and-female-anxiety/
 “The Effect of Hormones on Your Social Anxiety,” read more at: https://www.verywellmind.com/effect-of-hormones-on-social-anxiety-4129255
 “Why the Menopause Creates a Perfect Storm for Anxiety,” read more at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/worry-and-panic/201503/why-the-menopause-creates-perfect-storm-anxiety
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