Excessive worry, stressful situations, and physical threats can cause anxiety. But is there a link between anxious feelings and hormones in your body? Can hormone imbalance cause anxiety?
If you struggle with anxiety, gaining insight into the effects of hormones on anxiety levels can help you checkmate recurring anxiety problems.
Read on to learn which hormones can lead to persistent anxiety and what you can do to manage the problem.
Can Hormone Imbalance Cause Anxiety?
Anxiety is a complex problem caused by a combination of several factors. Some of these factors are psychological, while others stem from physiological processes like the activity of hormones in the body.
Left untreated, anxiety can impact sleep patterns, disrupt your day-to-day activities, and even affect your sex drive.
Wondering what any of this has to do with hormones?
Here’s the connection.
Hormones are your body’s messengers; they are chemicals secreted into the blood to help the various organs and tissues to function properly. Certain hormones alter your emotional states, making you feel good or bad.
In other words, if your hormones are out of whack, they can keep you in a bad mood longer than necessary, leading to increased anxiety.
Serotonin (a neurotransmitter and an important “happy” hormone) helps you maintain a generally calm and positive state of mind. It becomes difficult to keep your mind on an even keel when this chemical is not released in the right quantity due to hormonal imbalance. This will eventually result in high anxiety levels.
Besides serotonin, an imbalance in other hormones can affect mood and bodily functions. Unfortunately, some natural biological processes in our bodies can make our hormones go off balance and trigger anxiety.
For example, women tend to experience higher anxiety before menstruation, after childbirth, and during menopause.
Also, high levels of androgen (the hormone responsible for sexual men’s sexual and reproductive functions) can cause anxiety disorders in men.
Common Symptoms of Hormone-Related Anxiety
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of anxiety and hormone-related anxiety is key to helping you manage the situation and seek help before things get out of hand.
Usually, anxiety symptoms in both men and women show up in one or more of the following ways:
- Increased heart rate
- Excessive stress or worrying
- Having a hard time concentrating
- Easily irritable
- Panic attacks (caused by prolonged problems with the thyroid hormones)
Symptoms of Hormone-Related Anxiety
In addition to increased stress levels, hormone imbalance can cause several other symptoms specific to both sexes. Some of the common symptoms noticeable in men include:
- A feeling of constant exhaustion
- Having joint pain, muscle aches, and loss of muscle strength
- Taking longer than usual to recover from injuries
- Difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection
- Frequent illnesses and a gradual decline in overall well-being
In women, hormonal imbalance can trigger a variety of symptoms, such as:
- Depression and mood swings
- General body weakness
- Forgetfulness or difficulty focusing
- Infrequent or lack of menstrual cycles
- Cold hands and feet
- Aging skin, weight gain, and stubborn fat around the waist
- Having a hard time getting aroused or experiencing low sex drive
The Link Between Hormones and Anxiety
Anxious feelings are normal in dangerous or stress-causing situations. This is your body’s natural way of responding to threats (real or perceived).
For example, it is normal to feel a certain level of anxiety if an upcoming event makes you think worrisome or fearful thoughts. That’s because your thought patterns put your body in a fight-or-flight mode, releasing cortisol (the primary stress hormone) to help you handle the situation.
Cortisol, adrenaline, and other stress hormones help suppress body functions that aren’t essential during fight-or-flight situations.
Ever wondered why food becomes tasteless or you suddenly lose your appetite when feeling anxious? It’s because digestive functions are put on hold at such times. Also, it is difficult to relax when you are overly anxious because your central nervous system is ramped up and ready for action.
While stress hormones can be helpful (in fact, life-saving) in emergencies and real threats, humans aren’t designed to function properly under continuous stress.
If you are not in any real danger but still feel anxious (probably because you are worried about past or future events), your stress hormones are active but not utilized.
Here’s a simple way to explain this:
Your body is pumping chemicals into your system that aren’t serving any purpose. This means you are in a constant state of readiness to act, yet, there is no reason to take action. This causes persistent anxiety due to excess levels of stress hormones in your system.
Although stress hormones (especially cortisol) usually respond to anxiety at first, chronic stress or persistent anxiety can make the hormones a big part of the problem.
In other words, anxiety can trigger hormonal imbalance in some cases, and hormone problems can lead to persistent anxiety in certain situations.
Other Hormones that Impact Anxiety, Mood, and Stress levels
Cortisol readily comes to mind when discussing the link between hormones and stress or anxiety levels. However, a handful of other hormones can affect your mood, stress level, and anxiety.
Knowing which hormones impact your anxiety can help you avoid situations or activities that can trigger imbalances in your physiological processes.
Besides cortisol and adrenalin, other hormones that can impact (increase or lower) anxiety levels include:
Too much thyroid hormone in your system (overactive thyroid) can affect your mood. This can cause nervousness, restlessness, irritability, and anxiety.
Conversely, depression and persistent mental and physical exhaustion are symptoms of low thyroid hormone levels in your system (underactive thyroid).
The love hormone, as oxytocin is often called, has a positive impact on stress and anxiety. Studies show that oxytocin may help reduce anxiety, fear, and stress, especially when the hormone is released in high amounts during feel-good activities like sex, hugging, and breastfeeding.
This is why avoiding stress-inducing activities is crucial if you have anxiety. Anxious feelings are your body and mind’s emotional response to stress. Engaging in simple lifestyle changes like regular exercises, eating a healthy diet, and practicing meditation can boost oxytocin levels and potentially put you in a good mood.
Testosterone and estrogen are the primary sex hormones in males and females, respectively. The changing levels of these hormones affect your mood and impact anxiety positively or negatively.
The good news is that testosterone helps reduce anxiety in both men and women. However, because the hormone is typically low in women, men are more likely to experience the benefits of testosterone on anxiety and depression.
Estrogen fluctuations in women have a rather dramatic effect on their anxiety levels. For example, women may experience increased anxiety during pregnancy and menopause. It is also common for anxiety to reach higher levels during menstruation.
Managing Hormone-Related Anxiety
You are probably more interested in knowing how to manage and reduce hormone-related anxiety than merely getting an answer to the question, “Can hormone imbalance cause anxiety?”
Thankfully, there are several coping strategies to help reduce stress and manage anxiety on your own.
While the strategies below are effective, I strongly recommend seeking professional medical help if you have persistent anxiety or suffer from hormonal imbalance.
Relaxation is one of the most effective ways to prevent your hormones from going haywire. Done correctly, relaxation helps calm the mind, removing unnecessary fears and worries that can increase your stress level and tip your hormones out of balance.
I recommend the following activities to help calm your mind and body:
- Search for deep breathing exercises and consistently practice them to help you stay centered and reduce stress.
- Find time to practice regular self-care. Creating a “me time” once or twice a week to focus on yourself can help reduce worrisome thoughts and prevent your body from releasing excess stress hormones.
- Practice relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga. These activities aren’t exclusively reserved for spiritually-inclined people only. In fact, research shows that meditation can significantly reduce stress and improve both physical and mental health.
- Commit to doing a few mindfulness exercises every day to help you stay grounded in the present.
It is okay to relax and do nothing for a while. Trust me; your world will not come crashing down just because you took out time to relax. And if you tend to feel guilty for doing nothing, I recommend reading this article for helpful tips.
Avoid Hormonal Contraceptives (If Possible)
More than other birth control methods, oral contraceptives are often associated with mood swings and increased anxiety. Taking contraceptive pills might lead to depression in some women.
Although birth control pills often spring to mind, research shows a link between higher anxiety rates and all forms of hormonal contraceptives, including intrauterine devices (IUD), skin patches, injections, implants, vaginal rings, and, of course, pills.
If you want to prevent pregnancy but struggle with anxiety, you should consider non-hormonal birth control options. However, make sure to consult your doctor to help you determine the best contraceptive for your body.
Moving your body improves your mood because physical exercise helps lower cortisol levels. To help improve anxious feelings, consider incorporating low-intensity exercises into your daily routines.
Some good low-intensity workouts you can do include:
- Light jogging
- Lifting weights (make sure to do this slowly)
- Cycling (maintaining a casual pace)
- Rowing (at a steady pace)
- Swimming laps
Consuming caffeine is not helpful for your mind and body if you struggle with anxiety. Giving your body doses of caffeine (in coffee or other sources) can worsen anxiety symptoms and make it difficult to produce the feel-good hormone in the body.
To be clear, you won’t suffer anxiety just by drinking your morning cup of Joe. However, caffeine has similar side effects to anxiety, so it makes sense to pay attention to how your body reacts when you consume caffeine, especially if you have anxiety problems.
Reducing or stopping caffeine consumption altogether may help alleviate symptoms of anxiety.
Get Enough Sleep
Inadequate sleep due to poor sleeping habits or health problems like sleep apnea can impact anxiety and cause hormone imbalances.
Getting enough sleep starts with making positive changes to your sleep routine. You can create a winding down routine like:
- Setting the right mood in your bedroom
- Going to bed early
- Staying away from stress-inducing activities close to bedtime
- Keeping screens (phones, tablets, and computers) out of your bed
Improve Your Diet
Your hormone level is affected by what you eat; if you already have hormone imbalances, eating a poor diet can worsen the situation.
Avoid eating to fill an emotional void. Resist the urge to grab a quick bite whenever you feel stressed, sad, or anxious. Emotional eating often leads to unhealthy food choices, creating more hormonal imbalances.
Pay close attention to your gut health, as less-than-optimal gut health can cause hormonal imbalance.
Eat foods that promote gut health, like fermented foods, flaxseeds, fiber-rich foods, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These foods boost serotonin production in the gut, which is great for reducing anxiety.
To answer the original question: can hormone imbalance cause an anxiety disorder?
Yes, it can.
However, the reverse is true in some people: increased anxiety can lead to hormonal imbalance.
In either case, an anxiety disorder is often caused by a combination of factors, so addressing situational, psychological, and physical elements is crucial for overcoming the problem.
Knowing how hormones and hormone fluctuation contribute to anxiety and staying on top of these physiological processes can help reduce anxiety. This is especially the case if you manage hormonal imbalances on time.
However, if your anxiety shows no improvement, your hormones may have been out of whack for a very long time, leading to persistent anxiety.
Talk with your doctor if your anxiety worsens despite all your efforts at reducing it. Depending on the diagnosis, your doctor can prescribe medication or recommend counseling.