Anxiety is common, and everyone has likely experienced anxiety at some point in their lives. In the U.S., forty million adults (19.1%) have an anxiety disorder. It is estimated that 31% of U.S. adults will experience an anxiety disorder during their lifetime.
Anxiety can impact all aspects of life and make sufferers feel overwhelmed. Many things can trigger anxiety disorders, including hormones.
Hormones play a critical role in the body and are vita lfor the body to function normally. Hormones impact almost every cell, organ, and function in the body.
The endocrine system regulates hormones. Hormones affect many different processes and regulate metabolism, energy levels, reproduction, growth and development, sexual function, and mood.
Our bodies maintain hormone levels via the endocrine system. When there is too much or too little of one or more hormones, this is called hormonal imbalance. Even slight increases or decreases in certain hormones may result in certain conditions, like anxiety.
To work on solutions to anxiety, it helps to first understand factors that can cause anxiety. Continue reading to learn more.
Hormones that Cause Anxiety.
Stressful situations activate stress hormones and the sympathetic nervous system triggering several physiological processes simultaneously. The endocrine system produces increased amounts of cortisol and steroid hormones like adrenaline that allow the body to respond to stressful situations throughthe "fight or flight" response.
In cases where threats are life-threatening, the fight or flight response is critical for survival. However, in certain cases stressors that are not life-threatening trigger the same stress response as stressors that are, and the increased levels of stress hormones the body produces including cortisol and adrenaline can increase anxiety.
Prolonged stress can cause the body to continue secreting stress hormones which keep the body's stress response elevated. This can cause symptoms such as poor concentration and mood fluctuations such as irritability and frustration.
If stress persists, the body enters the exhaustion stage, and symptoms such as burnout, fatigue, depression, and anxiety will worsen which can negatively impact sleep quantity and quality.
Progesterone and Estrogen:
- Studies show that 80% of reproductive-age women experience at least one physical, mood, or anxiety symptom. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and some phobias are more prevalent in women than men.
- In particular biological states of a woman's life such as adolescence, pregnancy, the postpartum period, and perimenopause, anxiety is frequently present or heightened, likely due to fluctuating hormone levels, especially 1-2 weeks before their periods.
- Fluctuating progesterone and estrogen levels are associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Some women may also develop premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a more severe type of PMS that results in more pronounced mood swings, irritability, sadness, and anxiety. Low serotonin levels are associated with the depressed mood, food cravings, and reduced cognitive functioning of PMDD.
- Although testosterone is considered a male hormone,women's bodies make about 1/10th to 1/20th of the amount of testosterone as men's bodies, and research has shown that testosterone plays a significant role in anxiety disorders.
- Low testosterone (male hypogonadism) is a condition that occurs when the testicles don't produce enough testosterone.
Thyroid hormones control multiple functions in the body such as metabolism and growth.
A thyroid hormone imbalance can cause thyroid dysfunction including hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
An overactive thyroid gland causes hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism can cause many physical symptoms, such as weight loss, heat intolerance, diarrhea, tremor, muscle weakness, and mental symptoms such as anxiety.
A European Society of Endocrinology study showed a link between autoimmune inflammation of the thyroid gland and an increased risk of developing anxiety. The study included 76 patients with anxiety disorders, revealing that 71 exhibited an increase in gland blood flow, which indicated thyroid inflammation.
- Oxytocin is the "love" hormone because it can reduce stress and promote trust, empathy, and attachment.
- Oxytocin modulates anxiety, aggression, and the stress/fear response associated with social stimuli. Some activities like sex and breastfeeding produce oxytocin which has been shown to reduce levels of anxiety.
Signs and Symptoms of a Hormonal Imbalance.
Aside from anxiety, hormonal imbalances can cause a wide range of symptoms. Knowing what to look for can help point to a possible cause.
Symptoms of a sex hormone imbalance can include the following in women:
- Heavy periods or irregular menstrual cycle
- Hair loss
- Acne on the face or body (specifically chest or upper back)
- Hot flashes
- Loss of sexual interest
- Vaginal dryness
Symptoms of a sex hormone imbalance can include the following in men:
- Reduced sex drive
- Erectile dysfunction (ED)
- Lower muscle mass
- Increased breast tissue (gynecomastia)
- Problems with fertility
- Decrease or loss of body hair
Metabolism Hormonal Imbalance.
Symptoms of hormonal imbalances can include:
- Increased thirst or fatigue
- Slow heartbeat or rapid heartbeat
- Sudden weight gain or weight loss
- Constipation, diarrhea, or increased bowel movements
- Numbness or tingling in your hands
- High blood cholesterol levels
- Depression or anxiety
- Sensitivity to cold or warm temperatures
- Frequent urination
- Dry, rough skin and hair
- Thin, warm, and clammy skin
- Dark skin around your back, neck, or under your armpits
6 Ways to Keep Hormones Balanced and Reduce Anxiety
Not all hormonal imbalances can be prevented, but there are steps you can take to keep yourself in good mental health, your body healthy, and your hormones balanced.
- Eating a properly balanced diet: A balanced diet rich in vegetables helps your body get the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients it needs to function effectively.
- Regular exercise helps lower blood pressure and stress hormones such as cortisol. Aerobic exercise speeds up breathing and increases your heart rate increasing the amount of oxygen delivered to the body's cells which helps lower blood pressure and stressManaging stress levels: Meditation can help focus your attention away from stress and anxiety. Meditation helps to create a sense of calm, peace, and balance that helps promote better emotional, mental and physical health.
- Getting enough quality sleep: A lack of good quality sleep can leave you feeling more anxious and can make you feel more on edge. If you find worries keeping you from sleeping, try writing down your thoughts, feelings, or concerns in a journal.
- Quitting smoking (if you smoke): Smoking cessation is associated with reduced depression and anxiety and improved mood, and evidence suggests the beneficial effect of stopping smoking on symptoms of anxiety and depression can equal that of taking antidepressants.Maintaining a healthy weight: It can be hard to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. Support systems can have a tremendous impact on weight loss and maintaining healthy weight. It can also help to track calories. Adults should aim for at least 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise 3-4 times each week.