Anxiety comes and goes in many women—it runs on the same tides and rhythms as our cycle, ebbing and flowing in time with the rise and fall of sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone. In many ways, human emotion is a complex chemical cocktail intimately tied to hormone production and the overall health of our bodies.
When we experience danger, our bodies respond by producing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. During pregnancy, huge spikes in progesterone and estrogen give us a boost through the hardest months and drive our nesting behaviors. And after childbirth, our body resets with a drop in those sex hormones that can feel like a crash—pushing us to pull back so our bodies can heal. Even as humans, we’re still animals, and like all animals, our behavior throughout our lives is influenced by our hormones.
Anxiety in Women
For women especially, it’s important to be aware of the relationship between changes in hormone levels and anxiety. Women are more likely to experience anxiety than men, regardless of type or severity. We are more than twice as likely to suffer from anxiety—and with anxiety rates as high as they are, almost half of all women can expect to experience anxiety at some point in their lives.
Hormone Health and Your Cycle
We’ve all endured the same tedious jokes about irritability and PMS, but the truth of hormone health and mood as it relates to the menstrual cycle is more complex than that. The first half of the cycle, the follicular phase, is associated with a rise in estrogen. During this time, anxiety is generally at its lowest. You may feel optimistic and lighter, with a burst of energy and an improved sense of well-being. Estrogen improves the function of neurotransmitters like serotonin, making everything in life taste just a little bit sweeter. Problems at work or at home may seem easier to manage, and you may get more enjoyment from downtime, hobbies, and social contact.
The second half of the cycle, the luteal phase, is often marked by lower energy and higher levels of anxiety. The balance in the production of sex hormones swings from estrogen toward progesterone. While progesterone itself often has a calming, soothing effect on mood, changes in estrogen levels produce changes in mood. Every woman experiences this differently. For many, this part of the cycle comes with a prickly temper, increased anxiety, or even feelings of sadness.
A Delicate Balance
It would be nice if it were as simple as low estrogen, bad; high estrogen, good—but the reality is far more complex. More than anything else, it is the natural rising and falling in estrogen levels that’s associated with anxiety. As women, those changes come with the territory. Where men experience a slow but steady drop in testosterone, women’s hormone health is changing throughout their lives.
Pregnancy and postpartum, perimenopause and menopause—these major life events bring changes in how our bodies produce estrogen and progesterone. As a result, you may feel especially anxious around those big moments in your life. Motherhood often comes with a dose of sadness and anxiety. In your 40s and 50s, just as you’re hitting your professional stride, you may suddenly find yourself struggling with anxiety and imposter syndrome.
These aren’t personal failings. They’re the result of complex interactions between hormone health and the chemical cocktail of human emotion.
Time for good news. While our hormones fluctuate naturally, they can be managed with lifestyle changes and changes in perspective. As a therapist, I love helping other women learn to tame anxiety and create the lives they want for themselves. We may be creatures of tide and rhythm, but with the right techniques, we can surf those waves like a pro. Reach out today for a free consultation for women’s wellness or anxiety therapy.