Is Your Anxiety A Result Of A Hormone Imbalance?
It appears we are living in an “era of anxiety,” an available-from-anywhere, whenever, culture that has millions burning the candle at both ends. This leaves little time for stress relief, balance or proper self care. As a hormone health educator with a private practice, I’ve been struck in recent years by a rise of clients who share, without hesitation, that anxiety is their primary health struggle. Anxiety and hormone imbalance is a major theme of my work. This concern is almost universal among younger women I consult with and is backed up by American Psychiatric Association surveys in 2017 and 201. They revealed that millennials are “the most anxious generation.”
I often hear:
“I wake up with my heart pounding”…
“I feel like there are never enough hours in the day to get everything done”…or,
“I’m so tired and wired…I can’t sleep through the night!”
How is technology impacting this?
It’s no secret that innovations in technology, and the rise of social media has greatly impacted our ability to set boundaries on our time and attention, and in turn, expectations are rising for what we should accomplish in a day and how available we should be. Studies have found that those who use social media the most, particularly at night-time, have lower self-esteem and higher levels of anxiety and depression, and that people who frequent higher numbers of social platforms report higher levels of depression and anxiety.
Anxiety and fight or flight
The burden of this enormous pressure falls to the body, resulting in the classic “fight or flight” symptoms of anxiety such as racing heart, sweating, shortness of breath and increased blood pressure. But anxiety also masquerades as sleeplessness, fatigue, lack of drive (sexual and competitive) mood swings and depression. If and when it becomes chronic, anxiety triggers imbalances of the master stress hormone cortisol, which leads to adrenal dysfunction, insulin resistance and even diabetes.
Through testing, I can see that the majority of my clients are clearly experiencing “adrenal fatigue,” a condition that occurs when prolonged or heightened stress whips the adrenals into overdrive, pumping out ever higher levels of the master stress hormone, cortisol. If life’s pressures continue to pile on (i.e. job stress, taxes, travel, bills, toxic relationships, etc.), feelings of anxiety take over as the adrenals become overwhelmed and can’t make enough cortisol to power us through the day.
Overworked adrenals are not the sole cause of anxiety, nor the only hormone imbalance associated with it, but the consequences of poorly managed, unrelenting stress cannot be underestimated as a primary reason for anxiety and anxiety disorders, which currently affect 40 million adults in the United States and are twice as likely to occur in women (source: adaa.org).
What other hormonal imbalances can cause anxiety?
- Estrogen dominance/low progesterone
Caused by an excess of estrogen, the primary growth hormone in women, estrogen dominance can lead to feelings of nervous anxiety in the absence of adequate progesterone, its balancing partner. I see this particularly in women who have been under the influence of synthetic hormones in birth control – without taking a break – for years. Since progesterone is produced upon ovulation, and contraception shuts down that process, the unhappy result is that we are robbed of progesterone’s natural balancing and calming properties.
Other key causes of estrogen dominance are the xenoestrogens in our meat, milk, personal care and household products that mimic estrogens and add to our ‘estrogen burden’. Two chemicals in particular have been linked with anxiety: phthalates and bisphenol-A, both of which are used in the production of plastics.
- Estrogen Deficiency
Declining levels of estrogen as women age can also trigger anxiety, tearfulness (i.e. crying at commercials) feeling nervous and out of sorts, as the ovaries’ hormone production wanes and periods end as women move into the menopause zone.
- High androgens (testosterone/DHEA)
Testosterone and DHEA are androgenic hormones (from the Greek word, “andro” for male), most commonly associated with the development of male characteristics, but have a wide range of essential functions for women’s health as well including bone and muscle strength, sexual function, and metabolic rate.
When either of these “androgens” show up on a test report as too high (caused by too much sugar, intense work outs, synthetic hormone use) clients tell me they can’t shake “feeling edgy” or anxious and are short-tempered with those they love most in the world.
How can you naturally rebalance your hormones?
The good news is that just as our bodies swing out of balance they can be guided back to it, as long as we understand why these imbalances are occurring and what we can do, naturally, to restore calm and balance.
1. Test “Bio Available” Hormone Levels
My preferred method of testing hormone levels is in saliva, because it measures the fraction of hormones that are active in the target tissues of the body, where hormones do their work and is also the gold standard for measuring adrenal function. Once you have determined imbalances of your master hormones, we can match them up with specific symptoms and use test results as a guide to help you make strategic lifestyle changes.
2. Incorporate all-natural herbs/tinctures/vitamins
These are a group of herbs that nourish and strengthen the adrenals to help your body adapt to stressors. For an everyday tincture, I highly recommend these high quality formulations by Dr. Aviva Romm: Adrena Uplift (for energy) and Adrena Soothe (for calm).
This is a blend of five flowers with therapeutic, healing properties that work wonders for calming nerves and anxiety.
This powdered calcium/ magnesium drink can be taken in the AM for calming, and in a higher dose at night to promote deeper sleep. It also helps reduce headaches and sugar cravings.
3. Stress Management techniques
When you are feeling anxious, try to ease back on high intensity workouts– alternating with stress releasing exercises like stretching, yoga, pilates, swimming, walking briskly that release tension held in the muscles and lower stress demands on our hard working adrenal glands.
To focus and support adrenal rest and rebalancing, try meditation, yoga, Tai’Chi and Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4.7.8. deep breathing techniques to lower cortisol levels and manage anxiety and sleeplessness.
Turn Off Electronics Before Bed
Turn off cellphones and laptops for at least an 1 hour before bed. LED (blue) light emitted from electronic devices blocks production of the sleep hormone melatonin, thus making it harder to get into the deeper (REM) stages of sleep.
4. Nutrition tips
Opt for Cruciferous Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts that sweep excess estrogens from the body.
Grass fed, hormone free meat & dairy and your hormonal imbalance
If you’re not eating grass-fed beef, your consumption is most likely coming from a factory farm where they are injected with hormones and are almost always fed GMO corn, which is highly inflammatory. When you shop for meat, ensure that you always read labels, look for “hormone free”, “antibiotic free” and fish that are wild caught (versus. farmed).
Not all fat is created equal. Choose fatty fish, olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds for more calm and consistent energy, less brain fog and reduced cravings!
Reduced sugar & caffeine
Both of which are stimulants that wreak havoc on adrenal function, leading to anxious adrenals and anxious YOU!
Balance blood sugars
Ensure that you keep your blood sugar stable by not skipping meals and making sure you get the Fab 4 at every meal – Proteins, Fats, Fiber and Greens at every meal – this is the best insurance we have against hypoglycemic drops in blood sugar that cause cortisol levels to rise in tandem with anxiety levels.
Bottom Line When it Comes to Hormonal Imbalance
Remember: when we allow stress to become a badge of honor, chronic anxiety becomes our default state of mind. I encourage you to focus on the recommendations made here that resonate most with you, and commit to 1 or 2 small steps you can take this week or month to empty your stress bucket, nourish your body and support healthy hormone balance!
Who is the author?
Candace is a Hormone Health Educator and founder of Your Hormone Balance, an at-home hormone testing, consulting and weight management practice that helps people of all ages detect and correct hormone imbalances that negatively impact health and longevity.