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Experiencing Anxiety? It Could Be Your Hormones!

Experiencing Anxiety? It Could Be Your Hormones!

April 01, 2024

Experiencing Anxiety? It Could Be Your Hormones!
Written by Dr Meghan Breining

Do you experience anxiety? Or feel overwhelmed at times? Do you feel more anxiety at certain times of the month and better during others? Did you know that women are twice as more likely to experience anxiety compared to men? 

Generalized anxiety and feelings of anxiety can be driven by hormones! This is common especially in women, because women experience the natural rise and fall of estrogen and progesterone at certain times of their menstrual cycle. If you’ve been tracking your cycle using any kind of fertility awareness method, you know that there are some days you feel great, and some days you wonder 'what the heck is happening?!' 

Which Hormone Is Responsible?

An anxious woman, next to her is her fertility chart showing she has ovulated

One way to identify which hormone might be responsible, (and needs more support), is to look at the timing of when your anxiety happens in your menstrual cycle. The second thing that can really help is by identifying what the anxiety feels like. Often times feelings of anxiety and feelings of irritability can feel similar – but in terms of which hormone tends to drive both – they are very different!

The two most common hormone patterns are:

    1. Anxiety around ovulation
    2. Anxiety in the second half of your cycle (aka your luteal phase)

Anxiety around ovulation can occur because of fluctuations in testosterone. Anxiety in this stage is often confused with feelings of irritability, or even rage! What happens naturally in the body is that there is a rise in testosterone before ovulation. This is purposeful in biology, because that peak in testosterone makes women feel a boost in libido and it also improves mood. But for some women, this boost in testosterone makes you feel more “testy” instead! This can feel like irritability, anxiousness, rage, and can even increase other symptoms like acne.

Healthy Testosterone

Healthy testosterone levels are best supported by something you can do right now! Eating a balanced diet that focuses on animal protein. Blood sugar fluctuations are so common, but for some women, they do not always come with symptoms. Do you have a history of feeling “hangry?” That is one common symptom. Regardless of whether you feel symptoms or not, blood sugar fluctuations are stressful on the body. Long term effects of blood sugar dysregulation can lead to symptoms of high testosterone and even conditions like PCOS. One of the things I recommend to almost all my female patients are aiming for 30 grams of animal protein three times per day (and yes, that includes fish!). The women who take my advice always report back to my office feeling more energy, less PMS, less anxiety, less fatigue, and less moodiness! Often their symptoms are reported as completely resolved.

Where's My Progesterone At?

Anxiety in the second half of your menstrual cycle can occur because of inadequate levels of progesterone. Progesterone is a hormone made by your ovaries. It begins to rise about 24-48 hours after ovulation. Progesterone gives a calming effect to the body and nervous system because it helps to protect the functioning of GABA receptors in the body. GABA is your inhibitory neurotransmitter, which means GABA is the “brakes” on your car, vs being the “accelerator” on your car. Progesterone is naturally low in the first half of your cycle, your follicular phase, and naturally high in the second half of your cycle, aka your luteal phase. Progesterone levels are a spectrum, however, meaning that you can ovulate and have low levels of progesterone, and you can ovulate and have healthy and robust levels of progesterone. We want robust levels of progesterone! Many common PMS complaints like insomnia, anxiety, moodiness, bloating, and breast tenderness are all helped by having normal levels of progesterone.

Stress, Stress And More Stress!

One of the biggest reasons women struggle with low progesterone is because of stress. Stress can be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. How you perceive your stress and how you deal with stress mentally can play a role too.

A woman with her child, reassuring them and comforting them

If your family of origin taught you how to effectively deal with stress when you were growing up, with healthy coping mechanisms, then most likely little things do not bother you. But if you grew up in a home that did not handle minor stressors well, then most likely you lack the skills to regulate your nervous system in a world that exposes us to many minor stressors each day. We need to spend an equal amount of time in our “rest, digest, heal” nervous system – the parasympathetic nervous system, and our “flight or fight or work mode” nervous system – the sympathetic nervous system. The problem is that our modern lives keep us more in sympathetic mode vs parasympathetic mode. 

Here's how to get more into your parasympathetic (rest, digest, heal) mode:

  • Warm bath with magnesium salts
  • Dance and listen to music
  • Embrace your feminine energy
  • Go on a walk in nature – barefoot if you can!
  • Talk with a close friend
  • Go to therapy
  • Cuddle with your loved ones
  • Read a “fun” book
  • Pursue a hobby where you lose track of time
  • Schedule time in your calendar where there is no “doing” and just “being or enjoying” (example, go to the [insert your favorite + fun place] with no agenda, and keep your phone OFF in your pocket)

Lifestyle or supplements?

There are many supplements that can improve anxiety, but if we do not do lifestyle improvements first, then supplements do not have the same effect. The supplements I see have the biggest effect for anxiety are magnesium glycinate before bed, a methylated B complex every morning, and eating enough protein throughout the day. 

In the luteal phase, a big contributor to anxiety is suboptimal progesterone levels from either: 

  • an ovulation that is not robust,
  • or simply lack of ovulation.
The key to fixing these problems is to help the body ovulate better, and the first step to doing that is by lowering stress and eating consistent animal protein.

Now, anxiety is one of the most complex symptoms to have, as it can have many causes that all contribute! There is rarely one reason why women are anxious.

Other possible contributors to anxiety:

  • Low blood sugar and fluctuation blood sugar levels
  • High and low cortisol levels
  • Never having down time to turn off your brain and body so you can relax
  • Eating inflammatory foods, like seed oils
  • Stressful relationships
  • Watching the news
  • Lack of sunlight
  • Lack of connection to nature
A woman looking at her fertility chart to understand where she is in her cycle and calculate ovulation

 

Using fertility awareness

Using fertility awareness can help you determine whether your anxiety is driven by hormone fluctuation or something else:
  1. Look in your temperature chart for WHEN you ovulate, and then see above
  2. Look in your temperatures for how high your post-temp shift temperatures are – higher luteal phase temperatures generally mean that serum progesterone levels are higher, though there are exceptions.
  3. Look at your temperature pattern – do you have a marked temp shift? Or is it a slow rise? A slow rise might indicate slowly rising progesterone levels and suboptimal ovulation response, and more contribution to anxiety.
  4. How long is your follicular phase typically? If it often changes in length, you could have stress pushing out the timing of your ovulation and that can lead to lower progesterone levels and higher levels of anxiety

Use your fertility tracking app to mark in your chart when you are anxious – after 2-3 cycles you will be able to see a trend; are you anxious every day? Or just in your luteal phase? Or around ovulation? Or just when you are stressed? Then you can bring this information to your doctor and they can help you find a solution to help

 

Dr. Meagan Breining, aka “Dr. Meg,” is a Naturopathic Medical Doctor and founder of Bold Natural Medicine. She is most passionate about helping women in all stages of their lives figure out what is going on with their hormones! She also has a passion for helping her patients work through chronic health problems, including constipation, diarrhea, bloating, SIBO, thyroid and adrenal dysfunction, fatigue, and skin issues. Her personal experiences with gut and skin issues, and hormone imbalances, were ultimately what caused her to chose naturopathic medicine as her forever calling. When not seeing patients virtually, you can find her taking care of her daughter Grace, walking her dog Polar Bear, or cooking all types of gluten-free dishes for her family at home. Use Dr Meg's code to save on your Tempdrop purchase: http://www.tempdrop.com/discount/DRMEGND

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