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Hormones and Anxiety: What Women Need To Know

If your anxiety is climbing and you don’t know why, your hormones could be the culprit. Hormonal changes in a woman’s life have many side effects, including potentially drastic changes in mood and anxiety.

Let’s talk about four times in your life when hormones might worsen anxiety, and what you can do about it.

Adolescence. For girls, this age brings the first big change in hormones. During the pre-puberty years, typically between ages 10 and 13, hormonal level shifts can bring about anxiety and other mood changes.

Post-partum. In the two to six weeks after giving birth, you may experience a lot of hormonal fluctuations, affecting your mood and increasing anxiety.

Luteal phase of menstrual cycle. This phase typically starts on about day 15 of a 28-day cycle and ends when you get your period. This is when you will experience the greatest hormonal fluctuations, along with physical and emotional symptoms, including:

  • Increased irritability
  • Greater fatigue
  • Higher anxiety
  • Feeling bloated
  • Tenderness in breasts

Perimenopausal. You enter perimenopause as your body begins the transition to menopause. Typically, the average age of menopause is 51, however symptoms can start anywhere from two to four years before entering menopause. Estrogen decreases during this time, and with it, anxiety can increase. Cortisol and melatonin also can be affected, interrupting sleep. Rising cortisol can increase your anxiety and stress response, as well as lead to weight gain. If you’re living with insulin resistance, such as having diabetes or PCOS, you may find these symptoms exacerbated.

When To Get Help

If you find yourself staying in bed or your premenstrual symptoms are so intense that you avoid participating in activities, it’s time to talk to your doctor. An increase in anxiety can show up in several ways:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Inability to focus
  • Brain fog
  • Disinterest in activities
  • Crying about things you normally wouldn’t
  • Frequent rise and drop in emotions

What Can Help

Your doctor will first suggest lifestyle changes to see if they can reduce symptoms. This could include:

  • Exercising regularly -- at least 30 minutes five times a week. You should also try lifting weights at least three days a week. The weights don’t have to be heavy. If you choose lighter weights, perform more repetitions. 
  • Getting adequate sleep.
  • For menstrual cramps, you can try taking NSAIDS such as  ibuprofen or Aleve.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy with a licensed therapist, which can be especially beneficial for stress and anxiety.
  • Hormonal therapy

If none of the strategies reduce your symptoms, it might be time to see your doctor, who can work with you to prescribe medications to reduce anxiety and stress. The goal is to help you return to calmer days and more restful nights.

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