Anxiety disorders, ranging from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) to panic disorders, are a common problem. They are likely to affect 31% of adults over the course of their lives, impacting the mental wellness of millions of people. Anxiety disorders can cause heightened levels of anxiety and even panic attacks that make everyday life difficult.
The causes of anxiety disorders vary. They can be genetic or biological, environmental, or a product of lifestyle. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at biological factors connected to anxiety and how hormones, in particular, can impact our mental health and vice versa.
Hormonal Imbalance and Mental Health
Hormones are chemical messengers that help your body perform a number of biological processes. This network of messengers makes up the endocrine system, which regulates functions like growth, metabolism, and sleep.
Can anxiety be caused by hormones? Yes, fluctuations in hormone levels can cause anxiety, mood swings, and other mental health issues.
So can anxiety cause hormonal imbalance? Yes, prolonged anxiety and stress can contribute to hormonal imbalance. Your body releases stress hormones in response to stressful situations. When this response occurs too often or for too long, it can negatively impact hormone regulation.
Hormones Associated With Anxiety
Hormone changes are a natural part of our day-to-day lives. This is why we can experience symptoms like mood shifts related to our natural cycles. The most common association we tend to hear about is related to women’s menstrual cycles.
Although more common in women, men also experience natural hormone fluctuations and shifting moods. Some of the hormones associated with anxiety include:
- Sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) — Estrogen and progesterone help regulate menstruation and pregnancy. Estrogen also influences mood-impacting neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. Testosterone levels are naturally lower in women, but when they are too low, they can negatively impact mood and mental health.
- Stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) — Cortisol and adrenaline are produced by the adrenal gland. They are associated with the body’s fight or flight response, released when the brain perceives a threat. If the perceived threat (such as a stressful work experience) does not require an actual physical response, these hormones may stay elevated for too long.
- Thyroid Hormones (T3 and T4) — Thyroid hormones are released by the thyroid gland. They impact mood as well as physiological functions like metabolism. Dysregulated thyroid hormone levels can cause a number of mental and physical health problems.
What hormones trigger anxiety? Anxiety can be triggered by stress hormones, thyroid hormones, and sometimes sex hormones. A degree of anxiousness triggered by hormonal fluctuations is natural and adaptive. However, chronic symptoms of anxiety could mean that your hormones have become dysregulated.
Common Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance
Hormone imbalance can present differently depending on your individual biology. Men and women may see different signs of hormone imbalance due to the natural differences in their sex hormone levels.
Signs of hormonal imbalances in women may include:
- Vaginal dryness
- Early onset of menopause
- Stronger premenstural syndrome (PMS) symptoms
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Hair pattern changes
Signs of hormonal imbalances in men may include:
- Erectile dysfunction
- Mood swings
- Unexpected weight gain/weight loss
- Hair loss
- Loss of muscle mass
Of course, there are also signs of hormone imbalance that both men and women should watch out for. Some common symptoms include:
- Prolonged mood disorders such as depression and anxiety
- Chronic fatigue
- Muscle aches
- Low libido
- Brain fog or confusion
- Memory loss
- Irregular heart rate or blood pressure
- Gatrointestinal dysfunction such as diarrhea or constipation
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Dry skin
- Intolerance to cold or heat
- Decreased sex drive
Common Causes of Hormonal Imbalance
There are many potential causes of hormonal imbalance. Some of these are natural functions of the body that are prolonged or elevated beyond healthy limits. Others may result from lifestyle, genetic predisposition, or other factors. Here are some common causes and risk factors of hormone imbalance:
- Menopause and perimenopause
- Postpartum thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid gland after giving birth)
- Insomnia or poor sleep hygiene
- Unhealthy diet
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Insufficient exercise
- Chronic stress
- Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
- Low levels of testosterone
- MTHFR gene mutation
3 Ways to Relieve Anxiety
While anxiety medications help some people, they often come with a number of nasty side effects. But if you struggle with anxiety, don’t despair. There are many natural ways to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety.
1. Physical Activity
2. Dietary Adjustments
Like exercise, diet plays a huge role in mental and physical health. Reducing processed foods and sugars and consuming the right balance of nutrients will help you feel your best. Foods rich in proteins, healthy fats, and necessary micronutrients have been shown to have a positive impact on mental health.
3. Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques like meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga can help reduce stress and improve sleep. Consistent meditation practice can lead to many physical and mental health benefits, including reduced symptoms of anxiety and other mental health issues.
How do I get rid of hormonal anxiety? Healthy lifestyle choices like proper diet, exercise, and helpful relaxation techniques can help reduce feelings of anxiety. Other things that can help with anxiety include herbal supplements, reducing stress factors, and fostering a strong support network.
3 Ways to Balance Hormones
If you think that hormone imbalance is the cause of your anxiety, it might be time for an intervention. Fortunately, there are many potential solutions to hormone imbalance. The best solution for you will depend on the root cause of the imbalance. Here are some options:
Certain medications can help you restore balance by replacing low hormones or slowing the release of overactive hormones.
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT): HRT is used for perimenopausal or postmenopausal women. Female sex hormone levels naturally drop as women approach menopause, causing symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and mood changes. HRT can help boost hormone levels to combat these symptoms.
- Estrogen & progesterone: For those with low estrogen and progesterone, the hormones can be taken as medication such as birth control. Some women report improved anxiety symptoms when they take these medications.
- Levothyroxine: Levothyroxine is a thyroid medication. It helps replace the thyroid hormones in those with hypothyroidism.
- Methimazole: Methimazole has the opposite effect as levothyroxine. It can be used by those with hyperthyroidism to slow the release of thyroid hormones.
Several dietary supplements may improve hormone regulation and decrease the risk of anxiety:
- Magnesium is an essential mineral nutrient. Some research shows that magnesium supplements can help women balance hormone levels during menopause.
- Probiotics are good bacteria that live in your gut. These beneficial bacteria help maintain many of your body’s functions, including hormone regulation.
- Inositol supports hormone production and is one of the most popular supplements used for PCOS.
- Ashwagandha has been shown to increase testosterone production and impact fertility in men.
- DHEA is a hormonal precursor to testosterone and estrogen. Supplements can help boost levels of these sex hormones.
- SAMe aids in hormone production and is one of the main building blocks of serotonin.
- Taurine is essential for various bodily processes, including GABA levels (a calming neurotransmitter). It is impacted by hormones, so if you’re out of balance, you might not be producing enough taurine.
3. Diet & Lifestyle
We’ve already seen how diet and lifestyle can help reduce anxiety. DId you know that they can also impact your hormonal balance? Your diet can affect hormone levels by impacting the gut. Physical activity produces a hormonal response in the body that helps your body maintain proper homeostasis.
When to Seek Help
If you’re having trouble managing your anxiety, it may be time to ask for help. A trusted healthcare provider can help you understand the root causes of your anxiety. Consider getting your hormone levels tested. From there, you can find a treatment plan that works for you.
If you want a unique, science-based, integrative approach to your health and wellbeing, schedule a free phone consultation with PrimeHealth today. For additional support, check our our Women’s Health Groups.
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