This piece was originally published on Elektra Health.
As you approach perimenopause and menopause, you’re likely juggling a lot! You may be caring for kids or aging parents, busy at work in peak career years, or all of the above. So it’s natural to feel overwhelmed sometimes, but it’s important to recognize that there are physiological factors at play here as well.
Anxiety, which may (but doesn’t always) go hand-in-hand with depression, is thought to be influenced by changing hormone levels.
Hormones that can impact anxiety
- Serotonin: the “happy hormone” that stabilizes mood and fluctuates with age and decreasing estrogen levels.
- Estrogen: results in increased serotonin levels and increased serotonin receptors. More serotonin = less anxiety and depression. The relationship between these two hormones is complex though and we are just starting to scratch the surface!
- Progesterone: the “calming hormone” that may also influence GABA.
- Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA): a neurotransmitter that produces a calming effect when it binds to its receptors, which may support a reduction in stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness. With lower progesterone levels, GABA’s receptors don’t bind as well, thereby prolonging the stress response and increasing anxiety.
The most common anxiety symptoms are tension, nervousness, panic, and worry. Some may feel physical signs too, like an upset stomach, headaches, racing heart, or sweating. Others may experience panic attacks, which is an extreme episode of anxiety that is accompanied by physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and even chest pain.
Hot flashes and anxiety
There is one interesting connection between hot flashes and anxiety. Research has shown that women who experience anxiety are 3-5x more likely to have hot flashes. Another study found that women who experienced anxiety with physical symptoms (upset stomach, racing heart, etc.) had a strong tendency to have hot flashes.
Can the cause of anxiety, mood swings, and depression be independent of menopause? Of course. Either way, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider, especially if you’re experiencing intensive, excessive, and persistent worry or fear about everyday situations that are difficult to control, interfere with your day-to-day life, and/or peak within minutes.
Read more to learn about treatments and options to help manage anxiety.
- Bromberger, J. T. et al. “Does risk for anxiety increase during the menopausal transition? Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation”. Menopause: The Journal of The North American Menopause Society. 20(5):488-495. Web. May 1, 2014.
- Beck, T. “Estrogen and female anxiety”. Harvard Gazette. Harvard Gazette. August 9, 2012. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2012/08/estrogen-and-female-anxiety/
- Yasgur, B. S. “Mood Changes in Menopausal Women: A Focus on Anxiety”. Psychiatry Advisor. Psychiatry Advisor. December 17, 2018. https://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/home/topics/anxiety/mood-changes-in-menopausal-women-a-focus-on-anxiety/
- Mayo Clinic Staff “Anxiety disorders – Symptoms and causes”. Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. May 4, 2018. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961
- Young, L. M., Pipingas, A., White, D. J., Gauci, S., & Scholey, A. “A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of B Vitamin Supplementation on Depressive Symptoms, Anxiety, and Stress: Effects on Healthy and ‘At-Risk’ Individuals”. Nutrients. 11(9), 2232. Web.September 16, 2019.