WHAT IS THE HORMONE CONNECTION TO ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION?
CAN YOU RELATE TO ANY OF THESE SYMPTOMS?
“I wake up with my heart pounding"
“There are never enough hours in the day to get everything done”
“I’m so tired and wired...I can’t sleep through the night!”
“I'm constantly worrying about everything-- my health, finances, career, family obligations, the pandemic, civil unrest in the country etc.”
"My mind is always racing and I have a hard time slowing down"
"As soon as I wake up, I feel butterflies in the pit of my stomach"
We are living in an “era of anxiety,” an available-from-anywhere culture that has millions burning the candle at both ends, leaving little time for stress relief or proper self-care. Then layer on top a global pandemic, nationwide civil unrest, heated debates with an upcoming election and you’ve got the recipe for disaster when it comes to managing mental health struggles AND getting the help we deserve.
As a Hormone Health Educator, Candace Burch (our founder) has been struck by an increase of clients who share, without hesitation, that anxiety is their primary health struggle. This concern is almost universal among younger women we work with and is backed by American Psychiatric Association surveys in 2017 and 2018, that revealed millennials are “the most anxious generation.”
INCREASED ANXIETY + DEPRESSION DURING THE PANDEMIC
We can’t ignore the fact that the global COVID-19 pandemic has created major spikes of anxiety and stress. People are afraid of contracting the virus, dealing with unemployment, worried about how they’ll make ends meet and living with fear of the unknown. The additional impact of social distancing can make people feel isolated and lonely which can drastically impact stress, anxiety and depression. Most notably are the rates of anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions which have increased dramatically by 5% within the Black and African American community in the last 3 months ALONE (since the death of George Flloyd).
THE IMPACT OF TECHNOLOGY
It’s also key to note that more time indoors = more time on screens and thus less exposure to Vitamin D from the sun, which is critical to protecting our immune system and boosting our moods! 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, and that the higher the numbers of social platforms accessed, the higher the levels of reported depression and anxiety. And nowadays, we are more digitally connected than ever before. Between constantly refreshing the news & social media apps on our phones for updates on covid-19, the political debates, natural disasters, and nationwide protests, we’re hardly ever taking a break!
So while it’s important to stay informed, it’s equally crucial to take time away from our devices to rest, recharge and prioritize one’s mental health.
What is the hormone connection?
Now that we’ve reviewed the various reasons for increased stress in our modern day lives, let’s examine how these stresses impact our hormone levels, and exactly which hormones are known to cause anxiety, depression and other mood disorders.
Cortisol / Adrenal Imbalance
At YHB, 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 “adrenal fatigue:” a condition that occurs when prolonged or heightened stress whips the adrenal glands (the two small but mighty organs that sit atop your kidneys and are involved in producing over 50 hormones) into overdrive, pumping out high levels of the master stress hormone, cortisol. As life's pressures continue to pile on, the adrenals become overwhelmed and can’t make enough cortisol to continue powering us through the day. This progression from chronically high to low levels creates a perfect storm of anxiety plus exhaustion that is a recipe for dark moods and depression.
Overworked adrenals are not the sole cause of anxiety, nor the only hormone imbalance associated with it, but the consequences of poorly managed, unrelenting stress cannot be underestimated as a primary reason for anxiety and anxiety disorders, which currently affect 40 million adults in the United States and are twice as likely to occur in women (source: adaa.org)
Through testing, we can see that the majority of our clients (about 95%) are experiencing some form of adrenal imbalance - contributing to a range of symptoms from anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia and mood swings, to weight gain, low libido and/or allergies (all symptoms that impact our mental health).
Additionally, we test Estrogen, which is crucial to adequate production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that is the “happy center” of the brain (the “feel good” hormone). When serotonin levels are down, it’s usually because estrogen levels are down, leaving our moods down in the dumps as well. This is one of the reasons why mood disorders are common in menopause – when estrogen goes away, so can serotonin .Also, endorphins (the “feel good” chemicals in the brain) are reliant on estrogens, so if estrogens are low or out of balance, our endorphins will be low as well.
Finally, when progesterone is low (another hormone we test for, considered the “calming” hormone, which balances estrogen) and when it drops before we get our period, we often experience the customary PMS symptoms. Also, progesterone is involved in the regulation of GABA (another neurotransmitter that helps to calm ‘cortisol’ stress hormones), so when progesterone is low or out of balance, we don’t experience the full benefits of GABA.
Don’t forget: hormones work in synchrony - when one hormone is out of balance, all others are impacted as well. So an imbalance of Estrogen, Progesterone and/OR Cortisol can result in mood disturbances and increased risks for mental illness.
So what can be done?
#1 TEST DON'T GUESS!
Just as our bodies swing out of balance they can be guided back to it, as long as we understand why these imbalances are occurring and what we can do, naturally to restore calm and balance.
We prefer testing hormone levels in saliva, because it is an easy and convenient method of measuring ‘bio available’ or active hormone levels, found in the target tissues of the body where hormones do their work. For this reason, saliva results can be much more closely correlated with specific symptoms being experienced (versus standard blood tests that measure hormones still bound to carrier proteins in the bloodstream that are inactive!). Salivary testing is also the accepted gold standard for testing full (cortisol) adrenal function.
Once we have determined imbalances of your master hormones, we can get to the root of the symptoms you are experiencing and put together a customized, comprehensive, all-natural rebalancing plan to help you find relief based on your results and reported symptoms.
#2 INCORPORATE NATURAL HERBS / ADAPTOGENS
A group of herbs that nourish and strengthen the adrenals to help your body adapt to stressors. For an everyday tincture, we recommend these high-quality formulations by Dr. Aviva Romm: Adrena Nourish(strengthening), Adrena Uplift (energy) and Adrena Soothe (calm).
A blend of five flowers with therapeutic, healing properties that works wonders for calming nerves and anxiety.
This powdered calcium/magnesium drink can be taken in the AM for calming, and in a higher dose at night to promote deeper sleep. It also helps reduce headaches and sugar cravings
#3 STRESS MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUES
When you feel anxious, try to ease back on high intensity workouts-- alternating with stress releasing exercises like stretching, yoga, pilates, swimming, walking briskly that release tension held in the muscles and lower stress demands on our hard working adrenal glands.
To focus and support adrenal rest and rebalancing, try meditation, yoga, Tai Chi and Dr. Andrew Weil's 4.7.8. deep breathing technique to lower cortisol levels and manage anxiety and sleeplessness.
We also love The Shine App which offers daily meditations, mindset prompts, community support, bedtime stories and more! The app’s mission is to make caring for your mental and emotional health easier, more representative, and more inclusive of all of our experiences.
Turn Off Electronics At Least 30 Minutes to 1 hour Before Bed
The LED (blue) light emitted from electronic devices blocks production of the sleep hormone melatonin, thus making it harder to get into the deeper (REM) stages of sleep. This, along with the addition of constantly checking news and social media updates can quickly elevate cortisol levels and increase anxiety and stress.
#4 NUTRITION TIPS
- Opt for cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts that sweep excess estrogens from the body.
- Grass-fed, hormone-free meat & dairy: If you’re not eating grass-fed beef then your consumption is most likely coming from a factory farm where they are injected with hormones and are almost always fed GMO corn, which is highly inflammatory. Check out our recent blog post on WHY it’s important to go hormone free, and our favorite hormone free meat, milk and cheese swap outs.
- Make sure to always read labels; look for “hormone-free” “antibiotic -free” and fish that is wild-caught vs. farmed. Check out our recent blog post on our favorite places to find organic, high quality hormone free foods.
- Good fats: Not all fat is created equal. Choose coconut, olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds for more calm and consistent energy, less brain fog and reduced cravings!
- Reduce sugar & caffeine: Stimulants that, when consumed in excess, can wreak havoc on adrenal function & lead to anxiety!
- Balance blood sugars: Keeping blood sugar stable by not skipping meals and making sure you get enough Proteins, Fats, Fiber and Greens at every meal is the best insurance we have against hypoglycemic drops in blood sugar that cause cortisol levels to rise in tandem with anxiety levels.
When stress becomes chronic, anxiety and depression can become our default state of mind. We encourage you to focus on the recommendations that resonate most with you here, and commit to 1 or 2 small steps you can take this week or month to empty your stress bucket, nourish your body and support hormone balance! We also encourage you to forward this newsletter on to friends, family or a community that you feel could benefit from these reminders!
And of course, consider TESTING your hormones so you can find out exactly what’s going on in your unique body, and follow a customized plan for rebalancing!
Interested in testing your hormone levels and getting started on an all-natural rebalancing plan? Check out our at-home hormone testing + consulting packages HERE.