Did you know that women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety as men? Nearly 25% of women — or one in four — have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in the past year alone. Though anxiety has several causes that range from external to internal stress factors, hormonal changes throughout the menstrual cycle are one of the leading causes of anxiety among women.
If you’ve been feeling as though your current anxiety symptoms have fluctuated throughout the month, it’s very possible that your hormones may be to blame. Alternatively, if you’ve begun to experience anxiety along with menstrual irregularity, it may be time to check your hormone levels. Here’s a quick breakdown of how anxiety is linked to your hormones, and what you can do about it.
Can Hormones Cause Anxiety?
Hormones absolutely contribute to anxiety. Hormones are microscopic chemical messengers that deliver signals from one part of your body to another. They play a crucial role in regulating several important bodily processes, from metabolism and mood to sexual function and reproduction. When hormone levels become too high or too low, we refer to them as imbalanced.
Hormonal imbalances interfere with a variety of bodily processes and cause multiple complications, especially anxiety. For women, hormonal imbalances are likely to occur during the menstrual cycle when hormone levels fluctuate. This fluctuation can lead to severe anxiety symptoms, as well as a host of other symptoms, like bloating and acne —which can ultimately worsen anxiety.
How Does the Female Hormone Cycle Work?
The female hormone cycle involves a ton of fluctuation throughout the menstrual cycle. Female menstrual cycles generally occur every 24-35 days. . The first half of the menstrual cycle, or days one to 14 for most women, is called the follicular phase. This is the estrogen-dominant phase of the cycle, and can cause higher levels of serotonin, the “happiness hormone.” Estrogen levels spike during this phase, but then drop off to allow ovulation to occur.
Once we ovulate, the small capsule that releases the egg (the corpus luteum) begins producing progesterone which initiates the progesterone-dominant that begins the progesterone-dominant phase called the luteal phase (typically days 15 to 28 of the cycle). If we do not become pregnant at this phase, both progesterone and estrogen levels dramatically drop. Estrogen will soon soar again at the beginning of the cycle, creating recurring fluctuations that cause upwards of 80% of women to experience at least one physical, mood, or anxiety symptom.
What Hormones Typically Cause Anxiety?
Women are at higher risk of developing anxiety throughout reproductive phases that cause drastic hormone fluctuation, such as puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, postpartum, and peri- and postmenopause. The primary hormones responsible for anxiety-like symptoms are the two main female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone.
The leading cause of hormone-influenced anxiety that I see within my practice is progesterone deficiency, meaning that progesterone levels have not risen enough after ovulation during the luteal phase. This creates an imbalance between progesterone and the other sex hormone estrogen, ultimately causing leading to estrogen dominance.
Low progesterone levels can have severe mental effects on women, since this sex hormone is also a neurosteroid that can have a significant impact on the brain. Progesterone is a key component of our overall mental health; therefore, I often see women experience anxiety symptoms in the second half of their menstrual cycle when those levels become imbalanced.
How Women Can Get Their Anxiety Under Control
If you’ve been struggling with anxiety lately, trust that you’re not alone. There are actions we can take together right now to help curb those symptoms and allow you to lead a more comfortable, confident life throughout your menstrual cycle. The best thing for us to do to learn why there may be hormonal imbalances causing anxiety is to look at comprehensive hormone testing.
For women suffering from anxiety, we typically test during the second half of the menstrual cycle when both estrogen and progesterone are elevated. Unlike at-home test kits, which are not synced with your unique cycle, we conduct these between days 21 and 22 of your menstrual cycle to determine if your progesterone levels are rising enough in comparison to your estrogen.
In addition to personalized diagnostic testing, I’ll sit with you to learn more about what kind of symptoms you’re experiencing, too. We’ll discuss what other “PMS symptoms” you may be struggling with, like bloating, breast tenderness, acne, or irregularity. Then, we’ll put those symptoms in a timeline — are they starting 10 days before your period? Are they starting one week after your period?
These steps give us a ton of useful information in terms of what hormone imbalances may be occurring, so we can implement long-term lifestyle changes to get your anxiety under control.
Long-term Lifestyle Changes for Balanced Hormones
Once we look at comprehensive testing and review your symptoms, we can put the two together to implement a plan to effectively balance your hormones right here at our Calgary naturopathic clinic. There are multiple options for bettering your diet and exercise, which are wildly important not only for hormone balance but also hormone metabolization (meaning detoxification of hormones through your liver).
The first thing we start with is getting your hormones back on track. Sometimes, this means implementing supplementation or nutraceuticals to support the structure and function of your hormone cycle. Next, we will discuss diet and lifestyle modifications as these are foundational for long term hormonal balance.. We work together to implement changes you can sustain long-term, so your hormones remain balanced long-term.
Lifestyle modifications we can implement for balanced hormones and lessened anxiety include:
- Personalized exercise recommendations to provide different types of movement at varying intensity levels throughout the different phases of your cycle
- Improved holistic diet of whole foods and vegetables to help the body metabolize hormones well through the liver
- Inflammation reduction with plant-based antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids
- Sleep health tips to ensure your body (and mind) has adequate time to rest and recuperate
- Stress control methods to better adjust to natural fluctuations in the hormone cycle
Together we can implement a system that not only helps to regulate your hormones but also alleviate the symptoms of hormonal imbalance, like anxiety.
Remove the cycle of anxiety from your menstrual cycle.
Women deal with enough health concerns — anxiety caused by hormonal imbalances does not need to be one of them. Learn how a naturopathic doctor with a focus on women’s hormones can help.