03 Oct How can hormones in your cycle impact anxiety?
BY GABRIELLE LICHTERMAN
- If you experience anxiety and have a menstrual cycle, the ups and downs of hormones could be one factor in when symptoms spike.
UPDATED October 3, 2022 (originally published July 31, 2017)—Ever experience nervousness, panic or dread that’s out of proportion for the situation or that hits you out of the blue for no reason—and you don’t know why?
The problem may be at least partly due to where you are in your menstrual cycle.
Research shows that hormones can impact areas of the brain associated with anxiety, making you more likely to experience excessive worry on certain days of your monthly cycle.
To find out how your hormones could be impacting your anxiety levels, here’s a quick Hormonology Guide to show you why you may be anxious on some days and calmer on others.
While you’ll see that anxiety is possible in all weeks of menstrual cycles due to hormones, you’ll likely notice that you only experience a spike in anxiety at one or two points in your own cycle—possibly because you’re more sensitive to specific hormonal fluctuations happening on those specific days.
It will help you to track your anxiety episodes and pinpoint your specific hormonal trigger by recording your anxiety experiences in my Hormonology Menstrual Cycle Tracker Journal or a notebook.
Once you find out how hormones may be impacting your anxiety, scroll down for simple, study-proven ways to usher in calm….
Hormonology Guide to Anxiety
Day 1 (first day of period) to Day 7
Your estrogen starts out at rock-bottom at the start of Week 1—which is the first day of your period—and its level rises throughout these seven days of your cycle. The higher this hormone climbs, the more it boosts your physical and mental energy. While that’s usually good news, if you’re sensitive to rising estrogen, you could experience a temporary bout of anxiety, nervous energy or the jitters—especially if you drink caffeine, which exacerbates these effects—as your body gets used to this upward hormonal climb.
Day 8 through ovulation (which is Day 14 in a 28-day cycle)
Estrogen rises till it peaks; testosterone rises at the tail-end and peaks
There’s a lot to love about your Week 2: You’ve got more physical and mental energy, your brain skills can’t be beat, you’re eloquent and confident and your mood is soaring. However, there’s one potential downside: High estrogen is known to trigger anxiety in some women. That’s because this hormone prompts more brain “arousal”, making you more easily pushed into antsiness territory. This means you could experience symptoms of anxiety—such as worry, restlessness, feeling on-edge, irritability or tension—when faced with a stressful situation, say, an upcoming job interview or dinner with your new sweetheart’s parents. Or, you may get a bout of anxiety out of the blue that has no obvious cause.
Begins day after ovulation and lasts 8 days (Day 15 to Day 22 in a 28-day cycle)
Progesterone rises; estrogen and testosterone drop for half the week, then estrogen rises again
This is a mixed-bag kind of a week. If you’re sensitive to plunging estrogen, you may notice anxiety symptoms kick in during the first few days of your Week 3 as estrogen descends, bringing down mood-stabilizing serotonin in the brain. However, chances are, this anxiety response may be blunted by rising progesterone, which is a hormone that has a sedating effect.
There’s good news to report for the second half of your Week 3: During these days, you’ll likely be experiencing a lot more soothing calm than in other days of your cycle. That’s because estrogen levels go back up, boosting serotonin back up with it—and it’s paired with calming progesterone, making you mellow.
There is an exception to this Week 3 mellowness, however: If you go without food for too long. Many women become more sensitive to drops in blood sugar during the second half of their cycle, which occurs when you haven’t eaten for awhile. This is a side effect of higher levels of progesterone. If you notice you become intensely anxious, stressed, nervous or angry due to a small, inconsequential reason or completely out of the blue, try eating food. If the mood issue is blood sugar-related, you should feel calmer within a few minutes as your blood sugar stabilizes.
Final 6 days of your cycle
Estrogen and progesterone plunge
During your premenstrual Week 4, you may spend more time fretting about upcoming events, like a big bill that’s due, a dental appointment or a business trip. Blame for the extra anxiety goes to plunging estrogen, which brings down mood stabilizing serotonin as it descends.
Another Week 4 anxiety-trigger: Insomnia. Research out of the University of California, Berkeley, shows that getting too little shut-eye (even for a single night) creates changes in the emotional centers of the brain that ratchets up “anticipatory anxiety” characterized by excessive worry.1
How can you reduce your anxiety?
There are many proven, natural techniques for calming anxiety when it arises and easing its grip on you. Some you can try:
- Take slow—but not deep—breaths: Heard slow, deep breathing can calm you fast? According to research out of Southern Methodist University, slow, shallow breaths may soothe you more effectively.2 As the researchers explain it, deep breathing causes you to exhale an abnormally high amount of carbon dioxide, which in turn, triggers dizziness and a suffocating sensation, leading to more panic. By taking shallow breaths, you limit the carbon dioxide you expel, which calms you and lessens that panicky throat-constricting feeling.
- Go for a bike ride: Numerous studies show that moderate exercise (such as brisk walking, jogging, skating and bike riding) reduces anxiety and stress for up to an hour by triggering the release of calming brain chemicals. Do you get anxiety about having anxiety, for instance, do you worry about experiencing the symptoms of a panic attack? Then you may have “high anxiety sensitivity”. To combat it, do longer or more intense exercise. Research from Southern Methodist University and University of Vermont shows that high levels of exercise blunts your response to panic-triggering situations.3
- Sip chamomile tea: Scientists have found that this herbal brew contains compounds that have a natural anti-anxiety effect, helping to calm you. (However, avoid chamomile if you have ragweed allergies since it can trigger symptoms.)
- Practice mindfulness meditation: This easy meditation technique—which involves sitting with your back straight and focusing solely on your breath as you slowly inhale and exhale—has been shown in study after study to dramatically reduce anxiety symptoms by calming an overactive sympathetic nervous system (the part of your nervous system responsible for your stressful fight or flight response).4
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(1) Andrea N Goldstein, et al., “Tired and apprehensive: anxiety amplifies the impact of sleep loss on aversive brain anticipation”, Journal of Neuroscience, 33 (2013): 10607-10615
(2) Alicia E Meuret, et al., “Respiratory and cognitive mediators of treatment change in panic disorder: evidence for intervention specificity”, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78 (2010): 691-704
(3) Jasper A. J. Smits, et al., “The interplay between physical activity and anxiety sensitivity in fearful responding to carbon dioxide challenge”, Psychosomatic Medicine, 73 (2011): 498-503
(4) Gabriel González-Valero, et al., “Use of Meditation and Cognitive Behavioral Therapies for the Treatment of Stress, Depression and Anxiety in Students. A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis”, International Journal of Research and Public Health, 16 (2019): 4394
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