Dealing with hormones and anxiety is a common part of life, whether it’s about a job interview, seeing an ex-partner, or a conversation with your boss. While anxiety can be managed for many people, it can also get out of control and be debilitating for others.
Though anxiety disorders are often due to a chemical response in the brain, there may be another factor involved: your hormones.
It’s hard to say whether individuals with hormones and anxiety imbalances experience anxiety due to their hormones or if anxiety causes hormone imbalances — or if they contribute to one another in other ways. Hormone imbalances occur in both sexes, but far more women generally see hormone balances during parts of their life like puberty, pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause. This means that men can experience hormone-related anxiety, but on average, more women are put at risk for anxiety caused by hormone imbalances.
Types of Hormones That Impact Anxiety and Stress Response
There are a few different types of hormones that impact your anxiety, mood, and body’s natural stress response. These include stress hormones (or the body’s “fight or flight” response), sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone), and thyroid hormones. On the opposite end of the spectrum are hormones like oxytocin, or the “love hormone,” which could help to combat anxious thoughts and feelings.
Understanding how hormones and anxiety interact may help you understand why you experience higher levels of anxiety at certain times, and how to get a handle on those feelings to keep your anxiety from impacting your daily life.
1. Stress Hormones and Anxiety
Otherwise known as cortisol and adrenaline, stress hormones and anxiety are released in situations where your body senses you are in danger or otherwise threatened. These are part of the body’s natural “fight or flight” response that is used to prepare you for danger and cope with the sensed threat.
However, stress hormones can also be released in far more mundane situations — such as when you receive a stressful work email, are told by a partner you “need to talk,” or can’t find parking for a dinner date. Since you aren’t actually in danger in any of these scenarios, this leaves your body with excess cortisol and adrenaline, which in turn leaves you feeling anxious.
Heartwarming Guided Meditation To Overcome Anxiety
Plus, an increase in stress hormones and anxiety can cause your body to release more cortisol and adrenaline in response, meaning you’re left stressed and anxious due to the leftover stress hormones in your system.
2. Sex Hormones
Sex hormones, known as estrogen and testosterone, may impact how much anxiety you do (or don’t) experience. Times, when these hormones are changing levels, can impact your mood, explaining why teenagers experience anxiety while going through puberty and why expectant mothers have anxious periods while they’re pregnant or postpartum.
In general, women experience more anxiety than men. One explanation is the role estrogen plays in the menstrual cycle; where higher levels of serotonin (the happiness hormone) are released in the first two weeks of a menstrual cycle. However, estrogen levels drop dramatically in the last two weeks if an egg hasn’t been fertilized; explaining why many women feel anxious physically or mentally while on their period.
To prove that not all hormones are bad, meet oxytocin, otherwise known as the love hormone. This hormone and others like it actually reduce anxiety and have a positive impact on stress levels, as the brain emits this hormone during high-pleasure times like during a hug while cuddling, or even when a mother breastfeeds her baby.
Oxytocin modulates anxiety, stress, fear, and aggression that people experience when introduced to different stimuli. High responses to stress may even be reduced while your brain is emitting high levels of oxytocin, like when you’re kissing a partner.
4. Thyroid Hormones
Though the thyroid is small, it has a big impact on your overall mood and mental state. Overactive thyroids cause restlessness, anxiety, and nervousness; while underactive thyroids have been linked to depression and fatigue.
The thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) may be to blame here, but it could have something to do with an autoimmune inflammation of the thyroid, Studies suggest that many patients with hormones and anxiety disorders also have an increased inflow to the thyroid gland, which could link anxiety with thyroid abnormalities.
Reducing Anxiety with Balanced Hormones
Hormones and anxiety don’t have to control your daily life. Besides medication, there are a number of ways you can care for your anxiety at home by supporting your hormones and keeping yourself from feeling like you’re riding a rollercoaster of hormones, emotions, and anxiety.
- Exercise daily to lower cortisol and adrenaline levels, as well as release endorphins that make you feel satisfied and happy.
- Get your sleep to keep your hormones balanced. If you suffer from sleep issues, take a look at your sleep habits and see if you can make an at-home change or see a professional.
- Improve your diet by filling your fridge with fiber-rich, fermented, and omega-3 foods to reduce levels of stress (and keep you full).
- Learn stress management techniques to keep yourself from spiraling when stress or anxiety strikes. Try mindfulness activities like yoga, journaling, or meditation.
Managing hormonally-induced anxiety can feel like a vicious cycle, but it doesn’t have to. Test your hormone levels and learn what stress and anxiety management techniques work for you, whether they’re at home or with a mental health professional; and learn more about hormones and anxiety with the below visual from Everlywell.