The Anxiety Hormone Connection

Dr. Jolene BrightenPublished: Last Reviewed: Thyroid & Hormone Balance Leave a Comment

Could hormone imbalance and anxiety be linked? Hormones and anxiety can got hand in hand. Hormone imbalances like low progesterone or low thyroid can cause so many women struggle with anxiety, despite the medications or meditations they are offered.

So much emphasis is put on stress and anxiety that people nearly roll their eyes now when we talk about it. I can’t blame them. When you’re told to get your stress down, but really see no other way then what good is it to hear, “reduce your stress” again?

But if you are a woman living with anxiety, you might find it of interest to know WHY so many docs say reduce your stress.

Are my hormones causing my anxiety?

Stress of any kind demands a response from your adrenal glands.

This stress may be from emotional, environmental, infectious, inflammatory, exercise-induced, disrupted sleep…the list goes one. Basically, anything that gives your body the slightest hint that the environment is not safe will generate a response from the adrenals.

This is your body’s way of surviving and keeping you safe.

The problem is that we live in a world where stress is a constant. If you drive a car, have exposure to artificial light at night, are a parent without ample support, feel financially unstable, or find yourself ever eating on the run (we can all confess to this) you are sending the signal of stress to your body. It is amazing how your body handles all of this quite well.

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Do adrenal glands cause anxiety?

But when the signal of safety is far and few between your body adapts to keep you safe by shutting down your fertility.

Now I recognize that fewer and fewer women are wanting to become moms. In fact, in the last 3 decades we’ve seen less women reporting a desire to become a mom and more women embracing the concept of a childless life. There's no right or wrong to this and whatever you choose for yourself is 100% your business and should be well respected.

But maybe you’re thinking right now that this concept of shutting down your fertility is good thing? It’s not.

Having a baby is an option. Having amazing health without being fertile is not.

Side Note: If you’re in your fertile years then our goal should be to maintain your fertility. If you’ve gone through menopause then you should not be fertile and that is ok.

Can low progesterone cause anxiety?

To explain, let me start with how your fertility works.

On the 3rd day of your period your brain amps up communication with your ovaries and asks them to get an egg ready for ovulation. Roughly around day 14 you spike luteinizing hormone (and your body temperature), which results in an egg being released.

Anxiety and Hormones Before Your Period

Now here’s where that anxiety-hormone connection comes in.

What is left behind in the ovary once the egg is released is the corpus luteum. The corpus luteum is responsible for secreting progesterone for about 2 weeks following ovulation—regardless if the egg is fertilized or not.

Progesterone in balance hits a woman’s brain with a sense of calm and deep sense of love and connection for the world around here. It does this by stimulating GABA receptors, which puts the shush on neuroexcitatory (aka freak out) neurotransmitters.

Can high cortisol cause panic attacks?

Your body’s chooses survival over fertility. Thank goodness for that! I mean, if there is a chance I need to run from a tiger then I do NOT want to be pregnant or toting a noisy little human (aka tiger bait).

When stress goes high, so does cortisol.

Ever heard of the pregnenolone steal? Sometimes it is called the progesterone steal because that is exactly what is happening. Your body steals away from making progesterone in order to make cortisol.

So, high cortisol and anxiety go hand in hand. All is well and good until that stress is chronic and you find yourself in a state of HPA-dysregulation (aka adrenal fatigue). When this happens you find yourself pushing epinephrine and norepinephrine, which tell your brain to freak out and all the while you are reducing progesterone, which tells your brain to be calm.

Is it any wonder women suffer from anxiety?

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Hormone Imbalance Treatment and Anxiety Support

Hormonal anxiety is exhausting and can be debilitating. In my practice, we aim to get you symptom relief, while we investigate your root cause. To learn more about our in-depth approach read Healing Anxiety with Functional Medicine.

Estrogen and anxiety are linked. Getting progesterone and estrogen back into balance, while nourishing the adrenals is essential. Modifying your response to stress is an important step in eliminating anxiety. Try incorporating the following into your daily routine. 

Move Big Muscles.

Your body wants you to move when you’re anxious. So, why not give it what it wants?

Movement that uses big muscles can chew through anxiety quick. Jump squats, walking, lunging…heck, even kicking can help your body move through the stress.

Focus on Your Breath.

Notice I said focus, not control. Trying to control your breath to be that of a meditating yogi when you're in the midst of an anxiety wave can make you panic more. Instead, try noticing your breath without judgement next time you feel anxiety swell. Sometimes just becoming present with the emotion is all we need to help it shift.

And no worries about that yogi meditating business…with practice, you'll absolutely master that!

Nourish Your Adrenal Glands

When the adrenal glands and brain are misfiring it can make you feel like you're in a tailspin. Employing the lifestyle therapies in this article can help ease anxiety, along with incorporating nutrients for thyroid health.

Consider B5, found in shiitake mushrooms, and vitamin C, found in red bell peppers, can provide your adrenal glands with what they need to function.

Eating regular meals can help support adrenal health as well. Avoid skipping meals, especially if you find yourself feeling “hangry.” Intermittent fasting may be fine for you, but be sure to listen to what your body needs.

Consider a blend of calming herbs like Passion flower and Ashwagandha, along with the amino acids phosphatidyl serine and L-theanine to help bring the “chill” into your evenings. Adrenal Calm is what we use in my clinic because it contains nutrients to support healthy cortisol levels and calm the mind in the evenings.

Give GABA a Try

GABA is a calming neurotransmitter that can help support a healthy mood. This is a supplement we leverage when we need to squash anxiety and be on top of our game. Aim for 250 mg GABA and if you can pair it with L-theanine (a calming amino acid) then it can be a tremendous help when anxiety starts to bubble up.

Here's the GABA we use in my clinic. I recommend a liposomal form because it can be more readily absorbed and used by the body.

Cut Caffeine Out.

If you’re struggling with your stress response then giving your body a jolt is the last thing you need. You’d be surprised by how many women feel a reduction in their anxiety just by cutting that morning cup of coffee.

To transition, try replacing your cup of coffee with green tea, which contains L-theanine. L-theanine is a calming neurotransmitter.

We also use L-theanine inside our Adrenal Calm Formula.

Consider Quitting The Pill.

Birth control pill is most notable for causing depression. In fact, depression is the number one reason women quit the Pill.

But clinically, many doctors have witnessed anxiety induced symptoms with the pill. It is hypothesized that the nutrient depletions, inflammation, and microbiome disruption induced by the Pill is why some women feel anxious.

I also believe that the impact the Pill has on the thyroid is also significant enough to contribute to anxiety as well. Anxiety can be a common symptom associated with hypothyroidism.

Before just stopping the Pill, I recommend reading What is Post-Birth Control Syndrome + How to Heal.

You can also download my Quick Start Detox Guide. This was designed to support women on the Pill and those coming off the Pill.

Boost Progesterone.

You can’t boost progesterone if your body is perceiving the environment as dangerous. Implementing the steps above is a crucial part of healing.

Utilizing herbs and nutrients that balance hormones, while implementing lifestyle therapies, can help create healthy levels of progesterone. In my practice, we commonly prescribe Balance by Dr. Brighten in these situations because it is formulated for balancing estrogen and progesterone.

To read more about ways to increase progesterone, read 9 Ways to Boost Your Progesterone.

Set the Tone of the Day.

Start your day off with 5 deep breaths, a quick yoga sesh and some meditation to set the tone of the day.

Sound difficult? Here’s how to do it.

When your eyes pop open, bring your attention to your breath. Begin to lengthen the breath, feeling your ribs expand laterally and your belly gently rise. Take 5 breaths like this.

Stepping out of bed and onto your mat, find a place in your home with enough room for a sun salutation. Using the Down Dog app, turn on a 10 minute yoga sequence of your choice. At the end, take a seat and create a comfortable sitting position.

Use your phone to set a timer for 5 minutes, close your eyes and focus again on your breath. Your mind may wander to other parts of your body—that’s ok. Observe where your attention is being called and ask why.

If your mind wanders to thoughts of your email inbox or distracts you with your to do list, simply acknowledge and release them as you return to your breath. When your alarm goes off you are finished with your morning routine.

This all takes less than 20 minutes and can be incredibly transformative.

Can’t give 20 minutes?

Start with 3 deep breaths, 5 minutes of yoga and 5 minutes of meditation.

Feel you can’t master meditation?

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Remember, if you are struggling with anxiety that you should always work with a mental health expert to give you comprehensive support. Find a licensed professional in your area to get the support you need!

Have you struggled with anxiety? What's helped you?

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About The Author

Dr. Jolene Brighten

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Dr. Jolene Brighten, NMD, is a women’s hormone expert and prominent leader in women’s medicine. As a licensed naturopathic physician who is board certified in naturopathic endocrinology, she takes an integrative approach in her clinical practice. A fierce patient advocate and completely dedicated to uncovering the root cause of hormonal imbalances, Dr. Brighten empowers women worldwide to take control of their health and their hormones. She is the best selling author of Beyond the Pill and Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth. Dr. Brighten is an international speaker, clinical educator, medical advisor within the tech community, and considered a leading authority on women’s health. She is a member of the MindBodyGreen Collective and a faculty member for the American Academy of Anti Aging Medicine. Her work has been featured in the New York Post, Forbes, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, Bustle, The Guardian, Sports Illustrated, Elle, and ABC News. Read more about me here.