Hormones and anxiety… did you know that there is an interconnected relationship between the two? You might be surprised to learn that your levels of hormones can influence how anxious you feel. In particular, there are four types of hormones that have an effect: stress hormones, sex hormones, thyroid hormones, and love hormones.
If you’ve ever experienced the fight-or-flight response, then you know what it feels like to have stress hormones released in your body. Hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are released when you feel stressed—be that while giving a speech or facing down a lion. Your body is being prepared to deal with a physical threat even if there isn’t one present.
When there is no actual physical threat, these stress hormones make you feel out of control, anxious, and overwhelmed. You then become stuck in a vicious cycle where your feelings of anxiety create more stress, which causes more stress hormones to be released. This is what is happening when you panic during a social or performance situation.
What can you do to counteract these negative effects of stress hormones? One thing you can try is a natural supplement such as ashwagandha, which may help to reduce your stress level overall. Another option is to practice developing the relaxation response using techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation.
The sex hormones testosterone and estrogen are related to anxiety, particularly during times of hormonal change such as puberty, menopause, and throughout women’s menstrual cycle.
Unlike with stress hormones, when it comes to sex hormones more usually better. When your testosterone level is too low, this can relate to having more anxiety. By the same token, having more testosterone may mean that your anxiety is reduced. This may help explain why anxiety disorders are more common in women than men, since men naturally have more testosterone.
Why is this so? Testosterone increases the action of two brain chemicals that are related to anxiety: gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) and serotonin. Higher testosterone also helps to suppress the amygdala, which is the part of your brain that responds to fear and creates the fight-or-flight response. In fact, research has shown that administration of the hormone testosterone has the effect of reducing submissive, avoidant, and socially anxious behavior.
The stress hormone cortisol can also make it harder for your body to make testosterone, and when testosterone is lowered, cortisol tends to increase because testosterone usually controls it. In other words, stress hormones interact with sex hormones to maintain your anxiety.
Then what can you do?
Besides reducing stress and training yourself in the relaxation response, here are some easy ways to boost your testosterone:
- exercise regurarly
- eat healthy foods
- take a daily multivitamin
- get sufficient sleep
- adopt confident body language (such as placing your hands on your hips)
Research has shown that estrogen helps women to feel calm and relaxed. This may be why you’ve noticed that you feel less anxious at certain times of the month. However, aside from hormone replacement therapy (HRT) that some women receive during menopause, there isn’t much that can be done to increase your estrogen.
One way to feel better is simply to be aware of when it fluctuates using an app such as the Hormone Horoscope app, so that you can recognize why your anxiety is higher at certain times.
Thyroid hormones influence anxiety if they are too high. For example, if you have an overactive thyroid, you might notice sweating, shaking, heart palpitations, and a fast heart rate. For this reason, if you have a thyroid condition, it could be affecting your social anxiety. If it’s not already being treated by your doctor, getting this condition under control could be helpful to reduce your anxiety as well.
Oxytocin is released during pair bonding and during childbirth and breastfeeding, but it also helps to relieve social anxiety because it helps increase relaxation and trust. Vasopressin is a hormone that helps to keep the fluid in your body in balance. However, it also has an influence on social behavior, coping with stress, and managing anxiety. It’s been shown that it may be best to have a balance of oxytocin and vasopressin to function well in social situations.
Here some ways you can increase oxytocin:
- cuddling or hugging (people or pets)
- listen attentively to people
- being generous
- loving kindness meditations
- using social media
- using an oxytocin nasal spray
The bottom line? There are four types of hormones that may be involved in how anxious you feel: stress hormones, sex hormones, thyroid hormones, and love hormones. Understanding how these hormones may influence your anxiety is a good start at feeling less anxious overall.