Jul 26, 2023 | Mental Health

Doctor speaking to patient

How Hormones Impact Anxiety

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There are many factors that impact stress and anxiety. One of the players can include your hormones. In some cases, paying close attention to your symptoms and how your hormones can impact your mental health can be beneficial. By understanding the connection, you will be better equipped to deal with your feelings and address any underlying issues that may help improve your anxiety or overall health. 

Hormones linked to anxiety: 

Cortisol 

The primary function of Cortisol is to help the body deal with stressors. In certain situations, excessive or prolonged cortisol release can contribute to anxiety symptoms. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Cortisol alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system, and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with the brain regions that control mood, motivation and fear.” While for some people, the body’s stress response is usually self limiting and when the perceived threat subsides, hormone levels return to normal.  

However, when stress is always present, the flight or fight reaction is always on, which can put you at increased risk of: 

  • Anxiety 
  • Depression 
  • Digestive problems 
  • Headaches 
  • Muscle tension and pain 
  • Heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke 
  • Sleep problems 
  • Weight gain 
  • Memory and concentration impairment 

Serotonin 

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, commonly associated with feelings of overall well being and happiness. According to an article from Calm Clinic, “There are several theories on the development of low serotonin levels. One potential reason is that when you are frequently anxious, your brain begins to produce excess fear-related neurotransmitters, such as adrenaline while reducing production of neurotransmitters associated with happiness and relaxation such as dopamine and serotonin.” Often, imbalances in serotonin levels are linked to anxiety disorders. 

Sex Hormones 

Changes in estrogen may increase anxiety levels in some people. This can often be why anxiety peaks during hormonal changes such as puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause. 

“Estrogen affects mood. For people AFAB (assigned female at birth), 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 no pregnancy occurs.” –Everlywell 

Sex hormones may also play a role in how much anxiety you experience. In some cases, low testosterone levels have been linked to increased anxiety levels.  

Thyroid Hormones 

An overactive thyroid may impact your mood, making you feel nervous, irritable, or anxious. On the other hand, an under active thyroid can cause symptoms such as fatigue or depression. A study conducted in 2020, found that autoimmune inflammation of the thyroid, could play a large role in the development of anxiety disorders: “The study examined 76 patients with anxiety disorders and found that 71 patients had an increase in blood flow to the thyroid gland, linking thyroid abnormalities to their heightened anxiety.” 

It is important to note that there are many factors that can impact your mental health. Therefore, hormonal imbalances don’t always necessarily cause anxiety disorders, but may contribute to your overall health.  

If you feel that imbalances in your hormones may be a factor, consult with your doctor who can help further investigate and address any underlying issues you may be experiencing.

Learn more on this topic

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