Anxiety is real, and it is serious. It can show up in a variety of different ways—from excessive worry about life events like work, health, and family to obsessive thinking, severe social anxiety, or full-on panic attacks.
And, for women, anxiety can show up at different times of the month.
That’s right. Anxiety for women can be hormonal, and it often follows a distinct pattern within your 28-day menstrual cycle. If you notice that your anxiety gets worse the week before your period (luteal phase) or the week after period finishes (follicular phase), that means one thing: your hormones are a factor in your anxiety.
Don’t get me wrong: anxiety has many root causes, including poor gut health, micronutrient deficiencies, and lifestyle factors like being sedentary or getting poor quality sleep—and that’s why anti-anxiety medication (which has been the only tool in the conventional psychiatric tool box for many years) has failed so many women. Medication paves over symptoms. It doesn’t treat root causes.
Happily, some psychiatrists and other experts are starting to treat the root causes of anxiety—including hormone imbalances— by using food, supplements, and lifestyle changes. And you can, too. If hormones are a root cause of your anxiety, you can make lifestyle changes that address your specific hormonal anxiety-type.
Are you ready to worry less and enjoy life more? Here are my top recommendations for women who experience ANY type of anxiety, with specific steps for easing hormonal anxiety.
How to Stop Anxiety
If you’re a woman who experiences anxiety, you’re not alone. Women are twice as likely as men to wrestle with anxiety and almost 25 percent of women—that’s one in four of us—were diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in the past year.
Because anxiety has many root causes, it responds best to a multipronged approach. If your anxiety is severe and persists for a long time, you should consult a trusted healthcare practitioner. In the meantime, try the following anxiety reduction strategies:
Reduce inflammation to reduce anxiety. Research has shown a link between inflammation and anxiety. So when you take steps to lower your inflammation—which is good for your health in so many ways—you help fortify your body against anxiety. I recommend a couple key ways to lower inflammation:
- Take omega-3 fatty acids. These are the health-promoting fats found in high ratios in fish and some plant foods, like flax seeds, and they help lower inflammation. Eating nutrient-rich, omega-3-dense foods is important, but I recommend that all women take an omega-3 supplement because it can be difficult—if not impossible—to get healing amounts of this nutrient with diet alone. Also, many fish contain high levels of mercury and other toxins, so you don’t want to rely solely on fish for your omega-3s.
- Avoid toxins and other hormone-harming chemicals. Hormonal anxiety is driven by hormone imbalances—and one of the root causes of hormone imbalances is exposure to everyday toxins, like the gnarly chemicals found in conventional health and body care products, household cleaning products, air fresheners, fabric treatments, lawn chemicals and pesticides, and many other places. Avoid these chemicals as much as you can to protect yourself from hormone-driven anxiety.
- Support your body’s innate detox system. With so many chemicals in the environment, our bodies are working overtime to process and eliminate them—even when we assiduously avoid them in our homes and medicine cabinets. It’s a sad fact of modern life that our body’s detox system needs a little extra help to do its job well. I recommend plant-based antioxidants, like green tea extract and turmeric, to help your body detox.
Focus on gut health. Gut health is a factor in many mental health issues, including anxiety, so it’s important to support the microbiota that manufacture hormones like serotonin and dopamine. You can do this in a couple key ways:
- Fiber, fiber, fiber. The importance of fiber to the microbiome can’t be underestimated. The bugs in our gut thrive on healthy, whole-food sources of fiber. Emphasis leafy green vegetables, brassica vegetables like broccoli and cabbage, flax seeds, and high-fiber fruits like pears.
- Eat fermented foods. Naturally fermented foods (foods fermented without vinegar), like sauerkraut, kimchi, coconut yogurt, and fermented drinks like kvass, bring good bugs to your GI tract and promote an increased sense of calm.
- Take a probiotic. Fermented foods are great, but most of us need even more gut support. I recommend all women take a probiotic for hormone balance and emotional support. The idea of feeding your microbiome to heal anxiety might seemed far fetched, but the gut-brain axis is real. A core component of good mental health is good gut health!
Understand and address hormonal anxiety. If you experience hormone-related anxiety, you don’t need the research to tell you that your anxiety gets more severe during certain times of the month. But the data is there, if you want official confirmation. Studies show that fluctuations in female reproductive hormones influence the presence and severity of anxiety. Experts think this is one of the reasons that panic disorders are more prevalent in women than in men.
So the first step in addressing hormonal anxiety is understanding your 28-day hormone cycle and adjusting your food, movement, and lifestyle to match your unique needs during each week of your cycle. I call this The Cycle Syncing Method™ and if this is brand new to you, you can learn more about it here. You can also start tracking your period with the MyFLO app.
Once you’ve adopted The Cycle Syncing Method™, you’ll know where you are in your 28-day cycle week to week and you can track your moods and hormonal shifts even more closely. For now, you can think of your 28-day cycle as being divided into two parts: the first half and the second half. The first half is from right after your period ends to when you ovulate. The second half is from just after ovulation through your next period.
Most women don’t experience anxiety (or increased anxiety) during ovulation. (If you’re not ovulating, it’s a different story and you should work to get your ovulation back on track.)
- If you experience anxiety during the FIRST half of your cycle the cause is likely too much estrogen, which stimulates the brain to become antsy, edgy, and tense.
Natural remedy for anxiety in the first half of your cycle: Emphasize liver-loving foods and supplements during this time to help your body’s main detox organ process and eliminate excess estrogens from the body. Eat foods high in fiber and antioxidants, including cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, flax seeds or chia seeds, and low-glycemic, high-fiber fruits like pears. Get additional support with supplements like turmeric and green tea extract.
- If you experience anxiety during the SECOND half of your cycle it could be a few factors: you might be sensitive to the drop in estrogen, but that should stabilize as progesterone increases during this phase. If you are deficient in progesterone, you might not experience that calming effect. You might also be experiencing blood sugar dips if you’re not eating enough slow-burning, whole-food carbohydrates during this phase. Finally, if you experience anxiety the day or two before your bleed begins, you may be responding to the drop in both progesterone and estrogen that happens at this time. When both hormones plummet, you may feel anxious.
Natural remedy for anxiety in the second half of your cycle: I recommend vitamin B6 to help increase your progesterone levels. B6 is vital for your body to create the corpus luteum that makes and releases all of your progesterone. I encourage all women to take a B-vitamin complex everyday, but you should also incorporate healthy, whole food sources of vitamin B6, including bananas, grass-fed beef, chicken, spinach, sweet potato, garlic, and salmon. If blood sugar is a root cause of your anxiety during this phase, try incorporating more slow-burning carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, brown rice, or quinoa.
- If you’re experiencing postpartum anxiety, you are not alone. Research suggests that postpartum anxiety is common and that it likely has multiple root causes, including the significant drop in estrogen and progesterone that follows childbirth. Another factor is the disrupted sleep schedule you experience when caring for a newborn.
Natural remedy for anxiety after giving birth: I recommend that new moms continue their prenatal supplement routine into (and well past) the 4th trimester. This will help give you the nourishment you need for breastfeeding. I also recommend that new moms take hormone-supportive supplements to patch up micronutrient deficiencies (micronutrient deficiencies can fuel anxiety) because pregnancy often depletes the body of key micronutrients.
- If you’re experiencing anxiety related to PCOS or PMDD, you may need even more support to reduce anxiety. Both conditions can be uniquely challenging when it comes to anxiety.
Natural remedy for anxiety if you suffer from PCOS or PMDD: I encourage women with these conditions to take a concentrated, multipronged approach. Estrogen dominance is very likely a factor in your anxiety, so eating fiber-rich, nutrient-dense whole foods is key. I also recommend supplementing with liver-supportive nutrients, like selenium, green tea extract, and turmeric. The microbiome plays a key role in helping in eliminate excess estrogen, so supporting gut health with a high-quality probiotic is essential. Consider supplementing with calcium, which has been shown to help with mood disorders, including anxiety, during PMS. You will also want to eat foods that keep blood sugar balanced and use The Cycle Syncing Method™ to eat and exercise in sync with your cycle.
Anxiety-proof your daily life. You can take other steps in your daily life to downsize anxiety:
- Keep blood sugar balanced. Balanced blood sugar is one of the biggest factors in balanced hormones and stable mood. You can use The Cycle Syncing Method™ to balance blood sugar. Learn more here.
- Ditch coffee. Caffeine makes your heart race and your head spin. It is literal fuel for anxiety. Just say no to coffee and caffeinated tea! (Plus, coffee is a nightmare for hormone balance.)
- 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.
- Take a magnesium supplement. Magnesium has a calming effect on the body, and having healthy magnesium levels in the body supports a healthy stress response.
- Strengthen your vagus nerve. Experts believe that the vagus nerve is how the brain communicates with the body, and how the body communicates with the brain. Studies suggest that strengthening your vagus nerve may help reduce anxiety. You can help tone this important nerve with singing and music and laughter!
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!
Need more Hormone Help?
If you’re needing some health upgrading, it’s time you started you looking into what’s going on with your hormones.
I’ve designed a 4-day hormone detox and evaluation to help you understand exactly what’s out of whack and how you can start getting back to balance so that your hormones no longer have to suffer.
Click here to get your FREE detox and evaluation.
Rose An says
Hi! I just discovered this blog and app and am learning a lot. One question I have for the author is for those of us that struggle with mood swings and emotional lability during the Luteal phase, is it best to hold off on making decisions until our moods are more regulated? I ask this because I came across a Glamour magazine interview with Ms. Vitti in which she’s quoted as saying that during the luteal phase we can trust our thoughts to be “Truth.” But as someone who struggles with a lot of emotion dysregulation during this phase, I find myself obsessing over minor annoyances in otherwise healthy and happy relationships – almost to an OCD level. And then the irritation lifts almost immediately upon starting my period… thoughts? Thanks so much for all your work!!
Alisa Vitti says
Hi Rose An, I hear you! Luteal phase can be hard if you have extreme mood fluctuations. It can be helpful to notice if you have other symptoms of hormone imbalance (heavy periods, brown spotting, etc) to see if you can get a sense of whether estrogen or progesterone is off. Make sure your vit D levels are where they should be! Low Vit D is a common issue as well.
ive found it interesting (and frustrating lol) that my anxiety and adhd symptoms get worse leading up to ovulation – it feels like my brain is flailing around going from thing to thing and I can’t focus at all. it makes me curious what upcoming perimenopause (I’m 36) will bring!
thanks for the diet tips to deal with excess estrogen!
Rebekah Hock says
I hear you on this, my anxiety, icd and intrusive thoughts are hugely increased on ovulation week. It’s been like that for a few years. I’m almost 40 and have a one year old.
I’m just starting the mini pill to see if that can help.
Each month is torture.
Gracelynn O says
Ugh me too! Does it suck during your luteal phase too?
My dr said to go on the mini pill for same reasons! Can you let me know how it is working for you?
Hi there, curious to know if the mini pill is helping?