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  • Writer's pictureJessicah Walker Herche, PhD, HSPP

Understanding the Link Between Women's Hormones and Anxiety

a woman curled up to her knees lost in thought

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health issues. Women are almost twice as likely to experience such a disorder compared to men. The anxiety differences between the sexes are thought to be affected, in part, by hormonal differences. Generally speaking, women experience mood changes during the premenstrual, postpartum, and perimenopausal phases. These are times when hormone levels are shifting and fluid. 

A useful example of this is postpartum anxiety. After childbirth, some women can experience intense worry and fear. Normal new mother worry is common - this is, in fact, biologically driven and adaptive to keep your baby alive and well - but when anxious and intrusive thoughts become challenging to manage, begin to interfere with functioning, and detract from your motherhood experience, it can signal the presence of a disorder and the need for professional support. Let’s learn more about this link while highlighting other examples.

Which Hormones Are We Talking About?

Here are the hormones that can impact a woman’s anxiety levels the most:

  • Estrogen and Progesterone: A decrease of these two hormones at the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle has been linked with increased anxiety.

  • Serotonin: This happy hormone typically decreases anxiety and depression.

  • Testosterone: If testosterone is low, worry is usually quite high. Women, as a sex, have lower testosterone than men.

  • Oxytocin: The so-called “love hormone” is known to reduce anxiety and stress.

  • Thyroid Hormone: The rise and fall of thyroid hormones can be a factor in either depression or anxiety. 

  • Cortisol and Adrenaline: These are commonly referred to as “stress” hormones. Left unchecked, they can play a big role in the development of an anxiety disorder (see below).

Steroid hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are released to help us deal with a real or perceived threat. However, chronic stress - including the modern-day variety of stressors like traffic jams or running late for work - can lead to the continuous release of stress hormones, which can then contribute significantly to hormonal imbalance. Stress hormones, for example, lower testosterone.

As mentioned above, this causes more anxiety. It also results in the body releasing more cortisol to make up for less testosterone — and the entire cycle starts up again. 

Chronically high levels of stress hormones can lead to symptoms like:

  • Unexplained aches, pains, headaches, etc.

  • Digestive disturbances and weight changes (higher or lower)

  • Loss of focus

  • Fatigue 

  • Sleep issues

  • And yes, anxiety 

What’s a Woman to Do?

The above descriptions might sound daunting, but there are actionable steps women can take to help improve these concerns. Here are some basic, yet powerful, behavioral changes you can begin implementing today:

  • Take active steps to identify and reduce the number of stressors in your life

  • Diligently maintain regular sleep patterns 

  • Engage in daily exercise and physical activity

  • Make healthy eating choices

  • Reduce substances that can increase anxiety, such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol

  • Practice relaxation techniques like meditation 

Here’s another tip: As discussed above, oxytocin has a positive effect on a woman’s mood and can balance all the other hormones. It is in high production during childbirth but there are other natural ways to increase production of oxytocin:

  • Cuddling with a trusted loved one

  • Petting an animal 

  • Performing acts of kindness and generosity regularly

Managing Anxiety and Hormones Is Not a Solo Act

Increasing positive health behaviors such as the ones listed above can contribute to improving anxiety as well as balancing hormones. However, these suggestions are not meant to replace medical care or mental health treatment for an anxiety disorder. We encourage you to work with a nurse, doctor, or naturopath with expertise in women’s health, hormone balance, and anxiety disorders.

And, if you found yourself nodding along as you read the above information, we encourage you to reach out today to work with a therapist who specializes in women’s concerns and anxiety. To find out more, please call or text 317-747-0574 or visit our contact page

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace professional psychological care, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.


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