Do you often feel anxious (even when there isn’t all that much to worry about)? Does your anxiety feel bigger than it used to? More pronounced? Or do you feel relatively calm some weeks and unbearably anxious during others? It could be your hormones.
We tend to think of anxiety as ‘all in our head,’ but many factors fuel this painful feeling, including external circumstances, imbalanced brain chemicals, nutrient deficiencies, and one often overlooked—though very significant—root cause: hormone imbalances and how they affect the cyclical female brain throughout our 28-day hormone cycle.
Just like our bodies and brains shift in how they feel and function during the 24-hour night-day cycle, our hormones shift during our 28-day hormone cycle. And our naturally fluctuating hormones have a profound impact on our bodies, minds, and emotions—including our susceptibility to anxiety— throughout the month.
Your 28-Day Cycle: Why it Matters For Anxiety
We don’t expect to have the same needs and self-care routines at every moment during the 24-hour night-day cycle. For example, it would be weird to eat a 4-course dinner at 2:00am or to consider it normal or to go to bed at 1:00pm in the afternoon (unless we work an overnight shift). Yet we expect our bodies and brains to function the same—and to need the same support day in and day out—over the course of our 28-day cycle. Our hormones are fluctuating during each phase of the cycle, but we don’t modify how we eat, move, or live to tend to those shifting needs.
When we don’t live in accordance with our fluctuating hormone needs, we experience period problems like bloating, PMS, and acne. We may also experience symptoms we don’t typically associate with hormones, like depressed mood, brain fog, and increased anxiety. To add insult to injury, hormone-related anxiety can show up in a variety of different ways and at different times (or all the time!). Sometimes, hormone-related anxiety presents itself as fatigue or insomnia during certain phases of our cycle. Sometimes we feel calm during some phases, crazed with anxiety during others.
Easing anxiety often requires multiple healing strategies (just like many other health conditions), but one of the best first steps you can take is living in a way that supports your natural hormone shifts. It’s all about eating, exercising, and making self-care choices that line up with your hormonal needs during each phase of the 28-day cycle. Think of it as the 28-day equivalent of making the healthy choices you normally do every 24-hours (many of which you do without thinking because your body just knows it’s right), like going to bed when it’s dark and waking up when it’s light.
In this post, I walk you through how to start caring for your fluctuating hormones in ways that help reduce anxiety.
Hormone Imbalances and Anxiety
First, let’s take a look at the hormone-anxiety connection and how imbalanced hormones can contribute to feeling anxious. Here are three key ways hormones affect mood and anxiety:
- Your monthly flow is too heavy. Extremely heavy flow during your period—especially when you have heavy flow every month—can lead to anemia (iron deficiency in the blood) and one of the symptoms of anemia is, you guessed it, anxiety. And heavy bleeding is almost caused by estrogen dominance, a condition in which we have more estrogen in our bodies relative to progesterone. (Estrogen dominance is a very common condition, thanks to perfect storm of environmental factors, and you can learn more about it here.) Addressing estrogen dominance can help correct anemia—and reduce anxiety.
- You’re low on progesterone. Progesterone is produced by the corpus luteum, which is a hormone-secreting structure that develops in the ovary in between ovulation and the start of your period. Studies have found that progesterone helps improve cognitive function and plays a role in the synthesis of GABA, a calming chemical produced in the brain. Not enough progesterone can mean not enough GABA—and that can translate into more anxiety. Several factors can contribute to low levels of progesterone, including not ovulating (which happens for women with PCOS) or having a luteal phase defect, which is when stress or other hormone imbalances interfere with sufficient progesterone production.
- You’re on the insulin and blood sugar roller coaster. Insulin is one of the body’s master hormones and when it gets out of balance—thanks to eating too many sugary carbs— mood can go out of balance with it. Observational evidence links high-glycemic diets with depressed mood and increased anxiety. And animal studies suggest that insulin resistance, which is what happens when the body stops responding to the health-sustaining message that insulin sends to cells, is associated with mood and behavior disorders. But you likely already know this, not from the research but from your own life: if you’ve ever eaten something sugary, or gone too long without eating anything, and quickly plunged from feeling great to feeling sad, irritated, and panicky, you’ve experienced the up and down of the blood sugar and insulin roller coaster—and the anxiety that can come along with it.
Fix Your Hormones, Fix Your Anxiety
Reclaim your sense of calm by reclaiming your hormone balance. Here are my top tips for getting started:
- Eat the right carbs at the right time. Your first goal is to stabilize your blood sugar, and the best way to do that is to eat the right carbs at the right time. Start each day with a protein- and healthy fat-rich breakfast within 90 minutes of waking up. A hearty breakfast can help normalize blood sugar throughout the day and promote healthy hormone balance. A 2013 study found that women with PCOS who ate the majority of their calories at breakfast, and fewer calories at each meal throughout the day, had better hormone balance. At lunch, incorporate healthy fats with complex carbs (like black beans) and do the same at dinner. Eating some complex carbohydrates, (like sweet potato) at your evening meal can reduce cortisol spikes at night and promote healthy sleep. You’ll also want to match all the healthy whole foods you choose—whether they are protein, fat, or carbs—with each phase of your cycle. Eating cyclically allows you to biohack your unique female biochemistry and ease hormone-related symptoms like anxiety.
- Don’t move harder, move cyclically. Maximizing your hormonal health means modifying your workout routine to fit each unique phase of your cycle. It’s the opposite of always trying to workout harder and faster. It means really paying attention to your body and your cycle and matching your movement to your unique hormonal needs. Different types of movement, and different intensity levels, are appropriate for the different phases of your cycle. (Figure out how to move and how much to move here).) If the idea of tracking your cycle is brand new to you, the MyFLO app makes learning about your cycle easy.
- Cut out coffee. I harp and harp and harp on this because ditching caffeine is critically important for hormone balance. And when it comes to giving up caffeine to reduce anxiety, you don’t need to take my word for it. You’ve likely experienced the manic heartracing that comes after too much coffee—and the less frantic feeling that follows a cup of herbal tea. If anxiety is a problem for you, don’t make it worse by ratcheting up your heart rate with a cup (or three) of joe.
- Consider ditching the pill. While research on the link between hormonal birth control and mood and anxiety has been inconclusive over the past half century, enough research (and anecdotal evidence) has linked the pill with depression and other mood disorders. The pill has also been shown to deplete mood-supporting vitamins and minerals like vitamin B6, zinc, and magnesium One of magnesium’s super powers is promoting relaxation and calm.
- Boost progesterone naturally. The body makes progesterone from a precursor compound called pregnenolone—and pregnenolone is derived from cholesterol. So to produce enough progesterone, we need to have enough cholesterol.
There are ways to boost cholesterol that are healthy and ways that aren’t, and you want to stick to the healthy route. That involves incorporating sources of healthy fat in your diet like avocados, olives, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and small oily fish. Raising your levels of progesterone will also help bring estrogen and progesterone into better balance (though doing a hormone detox to eliminate excess estrogen and fight estrogen dominance is important, too).
Bonus! Incorporating more healthy fats at each meal is a great way to promote better blood sugar balance. It’s a two-in-one tip that goes a long way in bringing down anxiety.
Always remember, that once you have the right information about how your body really works, you can start making health choices that finally start to work for you! You can do this – the science of your body is on your side!
To your FLO,
We believe that no woman should suffer simply because she has a period.
We believe that no woman should suffer simply because she has a period.
And we also know that it’s not always possible to get access to functional and holistic healthcare solutions — sometimes they’re too far away and most of the time they are way too expensive.
That’s why we offer phone and Skype consultation sessions with our FLO coaches.
All of our expert FLO coaches have been trained by Alisa on top of being certified health coaches and licensed acupuncturists. And they are all qualified to help you find the right next step for you in getting out of hormonal chaos and into your FLO. Work with a FLO Coach and find your customized plan to solve your period symptoms.