The Connection Between Hormones, Anxiety and Worry
CAN YOU RELATE TO ANY OF THESE?
“I wake up with immediate anxiety"
“I am spread so thin and constantly feel frazzled”
“I overthink and worry about everything- health, money, career, family obligations, relationships, the state of the world etc.”
“I’m so tired and wired...I wake up exhausted, am tired all day and then ready to run a marathon when I should be sleeping!”
“I have a hard time focusing on a single thought & my mind is always racing”
“I don’t know how to chill and am always rushing from one thing to the next”
“I have a hard time living in the moment because I’m constantly worrying about something in the future, even if it’s outside of my control”
Whether you relate to some or all of the above, there’s no denying it - we live in a culture that praises “hustling harder,” expects us to be available at the drop of a hat, and rewards lack of sleep and maxed out social calendars. As much as working towards a career and/or financial goal can be fulfilling, it can also lead to burnout and little time for stress management practices or self care. Not to mention “super moms” who take on the majority of household and childcare responsibilities (sometimes while holding jobs, too), often putting their own needs and wellness goals on the back burner.
Have you ever noticed or experienced that you might be a little more motivated or happier in the summer months or when outside enjoying nature? This can be attributed to exposure to Vitamin D naturally produced when out in the sun’s rays. Those who spend more time indoors (working from home, electing for indoor activities, the natural propensity to stay indoors during the winter months, etc.), produce less of this Vitamin naturally - a critical component to stabilizing mood and protecting our immune system.
Lastly, we are living in a highly technological age. You’d be hard pressed to find a person who isn’t at least somewhat attached to their phone, laptop and/or tv screen. This not only tends to keep us indoors more, but also penetrates our brains with blue light, disrupting sleep and perpetuating poor moods. In fact, studies have found that those who use social media the most, particularly at night, have lower self-esteem and higher levels of anxiety and depression. This is also correlated with the number of social platforms accessed by individuals (more social platforms saw an increased number of those with depression and anxiety symptoms).
Now, we realize that it’s not realistic to unplug from all digital devices and move to a remote island with 365 days of sun. But we can set boundaries around screen time and take small action steps to better support our mood and our hormones!
At Metabolic Research Center, we speak with our clients not only about their weight loss (foods they are eating, upcoming parties and events to plan for, vacation strategies, etc.), we also speak with our clients about the things outside of food and weight that can impact their weight - such as stress, anxiety, and hormones. Did you know that over 95% of clients tested for Hormone Imbalances received results indicating that their hormones are out of balance? The first step to correcting hormonal imbalances is identifying them. Take our free quiz to see if you may be experiencing symptoms of hormone imbalance:
WHAT KEY HORMONES ARE TIED TO ANXIETY & WORRY?
Cortisol / Adrenal Imbalance
Ever heard of the adrenal glands? They are the two small but mighty organs that sit atop your kidneys and are involved in producing over 50 hormones. They manage quite a few systems in the body including the stress response, weight, blood sugar, blood pressure, and immune system. The adrenal glands control our “fight or flight” response. When we perceive danger (from an intruder, injury or loss to overdue taxes, an angry client or breakup, etc.), they mobilize all of our resources to fight back or flee from the threat.
The sort of dangers our ancestors experienced were more life threatening - running from a wild animal, an invasion, or a forest fire. So, in these situations the adrenals would pump out adrenaline (the hormone the body makes in an emergency) to sharpen brain function, provide a sudden burst of energy, and push blood sugar into the muscles to fuel the escape. These acute crises were often short-lived, and once the threat was resolved, the body would rapidly return to a state of homeostasis. And all was well again. Unfortunately, in today’s modern world, we are constantly activating the body’s stress response long term via obsessive worries and overthinking, career pressures, financial burdens, undernourishment and diets rich in processed sugars, alcohol & caffeine - and our adrenal response is running for extended periods of time.
As life's pressures accumulate, the adrenals are whipped into overdrive and struggle to make enough of the everyday stress hormone cortisol to power us through the day. When asked to run for too long, our adrenals can become fatigued and begin to underperform, dropping from chronically high to chronically low levels of cortisol. This up and down is a catalyst for anxiety and worry that can spiral down to dark moods and even depression. And the cherry on top? When cortisol is constantly being released, it causes us to hold on to more fat in our midsections as a means of sustaining the body (ever heard of the “spare tire”?). If you notice that you are gaining weight - particularly around your middle – that won’t budge no matter what you try, this is a hallmark sign that your adrenals are in serious need of some TLC.
At MRC, we test bio-available or “active” hormone levels in saliva (4x over the course of one day) which produces a diurnal (4 point) cortisol graph that can pinpoint adrenal imbalance and correlate closely with the symptoms you’ve been experiencing. Adrenal imbalances can cover quite a broad range of symptoms from weight gain, low libido, and allergies to anxiety, mood swings, fatigue, insomnia and/or depression.
How does MRC’s saliva test differe from standard blood tests? Standard blood tests take one blood draw (which results in a one-point result). While this alone can be informative, it fails to present the “whole” picture. Our cortisol levels are not static, fluctuating from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep; so, it’s really important to be able to see cortisol levels throughout the day on the diurnal curve. Not to mention, needles make a large number of individuals nervous and stressed - and this can actually skew the results of your blood test!
Estrogen is a sex hormone that can be tested in saliva. Many are aware of the implications of this hormone in reproduction, but did you know that estrogen also plays a critical role in the production of serotonin? Serotonin is our “feel good” neurotransmitter. When estrogen levels are low, this can trigger hypersensitivity, mood swings, and sometimes even panic attacks. Estrogen drops off in the late luteal phase (right before a woman begins her period again - aka “PMSing”) and is also a leading cause for mood disorders in menopause. When estrogen goes down, so does serotonin. In men, symptoms of low estrogen can include anxiety, decreased sex drive, excess fat around the belly, and bone loss. So men, you need to keep an eye on your estrogen levels, too!
When progesterone falls to low levels, this can result in erratic moods, anxiety, depression and sleep issues. Progesterone is estrogen’s great balancer and only produced upon ovulation which is why (for women of reproductive age) having regular cycles and normal periods that are not excessively heavy or excessively painful is paramount. Those who have been on long-term hormonal birth control pills will often find that their natural progesterone levels have been suppressed for years and incredibly low after making the transition off the pill. Progesterone peaks about 7 days after ovulation but then takes a nosedive right before the menstrual cycle begins again. Because of its involvement in the regulation of GABA (a neurotransmitter that calms cortisol), when progesterone drops in the premenstrual week, PMS symptoms can take center stage. Bottom line: when progesterone is low or out of balance, symptoms of anxiety and depression can worsen.
We often think of this as “the male hormone”. The truth is that just like men produce estrogen, women product testosterone (albeit in less comparative quantities, respectively). Testosteron production in men and women plays a critical role in our sense of well being, moods, confidence and zest for living, sex drive, endurance, and muscle and bone strength. When low testosterone decreases our interest in physical intimacy with a partner, this loss of desire can further perpetuate feelings of anxiety, depression and low self esteem. Grinding anxiety - one of the hallmarks of low testosterone - can manifest as low-level daily worries to terrifying panic attacks that ripple out to all areas of our life. If left untreated, things may get so bad that you begin fearing making any decisions because of the potential for a negative outcome. The good news is that there are many natural steps that can be taken to restore low testosterone in both men and women. These include: increased strength training, key supplements, and specific foods that contain high levels of the micronutrient zinc such as oysters and pumpkin seeds.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States and are twice as likely to occur in women. So, it’s important to know that if you feel this way (and maybe aren’t really sure why), you are NOT alone. Reaching out for help to understand the underlying culprit (likely hormones) is always a good idea.
Hormones work in harmony like a symphony. When one is out of balance, the whole orchestra falls out of tune. This is why testing your hormone levels, getting to the root, and then following the targeted dietary, supplement and lifestyle changes such as those provided by Metabolic Research Center Hormone Imbalance Testing and weight management programs may help to move the needle. So, you can improve not only your mood but your whole outlook on life! To connect with an MRC Team near you and learn more today, click here.
*The information provided within this article is not to replace a relationship with your Medical Professional.
The laboratory services offered are for informational purposes only. It is not the intention of Metabolic Research Center to provide medical advice but rather to provide you with information to better understand your health. Seek the advice of a trained health professional for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
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