Anxiety is known as a psychological/mental health disorder, and at its core, it is. But scientists now know that your genetics and current physical health can play a very significant role in both the development of anxiety and how it manifests. For example, it's known that low levels of serotonin - a common neurotransmitter - may lead to anxiety and depression, which is why drugs that improve the flow of serotonin are prescribed for anxiety.
Hormones also appear to play a significant role in anxiety development. Those that feel as though their anxieties appeared over time despite effective coping strategies and a high overall quality of life may be suffering from hormonal anxiety, caused by any number of problems with hormone balance.
Is Anxiety Affecting Hormones?
Anxiety creates stress, and stress has a powerful effect on hormones in your body. If you haven't yet taken our free 7 minute anxiety test, consider doing so now to score your anxiety symptoms, compare it to others, and see how to control it.
You May Never Know the Cause of Your Anxiety
The truth is that it's almost impossible to know the exact cause of your anxiety. Your hormonal imbalance may have caused your anxiety, but your anxiety may also have caused your hormonal imbalance, and in some cases the imbalance may have no effect on anxiety whatsoever.
That's why it's best to start at the symptoms and move forward from there. If you haven't yet, click here to take my free anxiety symptoms questionnaire.
Hormones that Cause Anxiety
Anxiety hormone imbalance has the potential to cause anxiety, because anxiety is often caused by those whose bodies are under stress trying to operate efficiently. It's the reason that those that don't exercise and those that eat an unhealthy diet often have anxiety as well - without exercise or nutrition, your body struggles to function. In addition, hormones are the messengers to the brain. Without hormones, your body may not produce the right amount of neurotransmitters, and anxiety may be the result.
That said, some examples of hormones that may contribute to anxiety include:
- Stress Hormones (Cortisol) Cortisol and anxiety have a cyclical relationship. On the one hand, anxiety is essentially mental stress, and when you're mentally stressed you release cortisol. However, research has also confirmed that excess stress hormone can cause both anxiety and depression, and contribute to the likelihood of an anxiety attack. Cortisol can have a powerful effect on your brain, and anything that increases cortisol production or decreases cortisol reduction (such as a lack of exercise) can cause anxiety.
- Sex Hormones (Estrogen/Testosterone) Numerous studies have confirmed that anxiety often begins during periods of intense hormonal change, such as during prime ages of pregnancy, during menopause, etc. Generally, those changes affect sex hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, indicating that the two hormones may contribute to anxiety. Studies on rates appear to confirm this belief.
- Thyroid Hormone An overactive thyroid can also cause a significant problem with anxiety, and is very likely to cause panic attacks. When you suffer from hyperthyroidism, your body goes on overdrive and starts to increase your overall body's metabolism, causing hyperventilation and an increased heart rate, among other symptoms. Hypothyroidism, which occurs when you don't have enough thyroid hormone, also appears to contribute to anxiety due to the way an underproduction of the thyroid hormone affects the brain.
Again, nearly any type of hormonal dysfunction can contribute to anxiety, because the body often responds to poorly functioning hormones with stress. But the three examples above tend to be the most common hormones that cause anxiety.
Does Hormonal Anxiety Require Hormonal Therapy?
What is perhaps most interesting about anxiety, however, is that even if your anxiety is caused by a change in hormones, it rarely requires any hormonal therapy. Those in natural medicine often talk about the mind/body connection, and many of those that support research-based treatments laugh at the idea that the mind can genuinely affect the body, and vice versa.
But it's well known that nearly all forms of anxiety at all levels of severity can be reduced, and possibly even cured, with some type of psychological treatment. Whether it's cognitive behavioral therapy or something else, mental health treatments are effective at helping fight anxiety at all levels of severity, including those caused by hormonal issues.
Does that mean that hormonal therapies won't work? It depends on the hormone. In some cases, such as with thyroid hormone, it may be beneficial to receive a thyroid treatment, and those treatments may be enough to counter your anxiety. Nevertheless, anxiety is a condition that most can treat without any hormonal therapies or supplements, even if hormones are the cause.
How to Cure Hormonal Anxiety
It's also important to remember that hormonal imbalances may not be the cause of anxiety. While poorly functioning hormones can be a contributing factor, many of those with hormonal imbalances showed signs of anxiety previously. In some cases anxiety may be caused almost exclusively by hormones, but in many cases it is a combination of hormones and previous mental health problems, or may have nothing to do with hormones at all.
Yet no matter what the cause of your anxiety - even if it's something physical - you can treat it using psychological techniques. Your mind is incredibly powerful, and it can learn to control anxiety even when that anxiety is related to a hormonal imbalance.
I've helped many people with hormonal imbalances cure their anxiety. But the most important place to start is with your symptoms. Take my free anxiety symptoms questionnaire to get a detailed report on your anxiety and recommendations for treatment.
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Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.