Oftentimes, discussions between mental health diagnoses and hormones do not fall into the same conversation. We desperately hope to change this narrative, as mental health diagnoses can often be related to a hormonal imbalance, among other things. ie, microbiome imbalance, infection, and more. To the point, this article will answer the question, can anxiety be caused by hormones?
Anxiety is a natural part of life and indicates the brain is responding to stressors, whether perceived or real. That said, how anxiety manifests and how one is able to cope and reroute those anxious feelings is determined by the proper or improper inner workings of neurotransmitters (brain hormones), coping tools, the microbiome, and inflammation status.
There is a documented link between age and anxiety onset and interestingly enough, this correlation tends to happen most often at the age of significant hormonal fluctuation. Oftentimes puberty, postpartum, and menopause are significant times in life when anxiety may present or worsen to a level that is difficult for the individual to control.
This begs the question, could anxiety that begins around a time of significant hormonal shift, in fact, be a sign of hormonal imbalance and internal miscommunication?
Hormonal Changes That May Cause Anxiety
Hormones work intricately with each other, and when one is increased, decreased, turned on, or off, you can experience physical, emotional, and mental changes. Hormones also work in a community and so the change in one particular hormone can cascade across multiple hormones or body systems.
For example, when the adrenal hormones are stressed, this can cause a ripple effect in sex hormones.
Below we will discuss some of the situations in which we have documented evidence that hormonal imbalances affect the presentation of anxiety.
Low Testosterone in Men
Testosterone is a male hormone that is involved in almost every major function of the body. It is an important hormone in both men and women, but more impactful and needed in higher quantities in men.
To be more specific, testosterone is an androgen hormone and the male brain is full of adrenergic receptors. This creates a chain reaction that affects men’s muscle production, cognition, and libido. Studies have found that men with lower testosterone levels are more prone to mood swings, anxiety, and depression.
Often, this is contrary to what people assume due to what they have heard about steroid usage causing mood fluctuations. The two situations are entirely different and testosterone itself is what gives men a calm, balanced, and focused demeanor.
Understanding that anxiety is not fixed and can fluctuate along with hormone fluctuations can make it easier to manage.
When women’s progesterone levels were highest in multiple studies, certain aspects surrounding their feelings of anxiety were also higher. Knowing this can bring some relief in itself so that women are not overwhelmed and wondering why they’re feeling anxious during different times of the month.
Additionally, understanding that progesterone fluctuates can help us to understand when more support may be needed for women who feel anxious.
Estrogen and Anxiety
Estrogen is responsible for calming the fear response in women’s brains. Women who experience lower estrogen levels are more prone to anxiety than those with higher levels. Additionally, during a woman’s menstrual cycle, they are more likely to experience anxiety during times of lower estrogen than higher estrogen in their cycle.
Adrenals and Anxiety
The adrenal glands are two small glands that sit on your kidneys and are responsible for regulating your body’s stress hormones. When these glands create too much or too little hormone, symptoms of anxiety are more likely to occur.
The adrenals are responsible for your fight or flight stress response which is the activation of your sympathetic nervous system. When you remain in a high-stress, nutritionally depleted, or overstimulated state for too long, the adrenal glands can begin to function poorly. This is considered adrenal fatigue. When the adrenals are fatigued, it makes it more difficult for them to regulate your body’s fight or flight response and easier to tip into a high anxiety state.
The Verdict – Can Anxiety be Caused by Hormones?
From a scientific perspective, it is difficult to fully attribute one particular hormonal level to specific mental health conditions. This is because the hormones are fluctuating so consistently, and the patterns themselves are inconsistent. You can’t isolate one hormone in women because when one hormone changes, others are changing simultaneously.
Additionally, symptoms of anxiety peak around menopause when estrogen levels are decreasing, yet anxiety levels are significantly lower in those who are past menopause, yet postmenopausal women lack estrogen entirely.
This leads many researchers to believe that it is more likely the fluctuations and imbalance between hormones that may actually be leading to symptoms of anxiety and depression that are tied to hormone fluctuation.
It’s important to note that anxiety and depression disorders are twice as likely in women as they are in men. One potential reason for this may be the increase in variability in women’s hormones that men do not experience.
What Does This Mean For Those Who Experience Anxiety?
First off, understanding our hormone fluctuations can help us to prepare for and understand times of higher anxiety. It can feel overwhelming and frustrating to not understand why your anxiety fluctuates and why it feels overwhelming at some times but manageable at others.
Owning the knowledge of how your hormones play a role, can help you to pick up on cycles in anxiety symptoms and decrease the discomfort of not understanding why or when your anxiety may fluctuate.
Working with a skilled functional medicine provider to understand your hormones is an excellent step in the right direction. There are so many approaches we can take and tools in the toolbox to mitigate anxiety, get to the root cause of your anxiousness, and bring balance back to the system before needing to go the route of medication.
At Peak Health Institute, we work with you to establish a baseline of your lab values and a full assessment of your history and current lifestyle. By analyzing these things, we can help you establish an adequate plan to get your hormones balanced, anxiety under control, and optimize the way you feel in your daily life.