Do you have an, at times, shaky mood?
Do events that once didn’t faze you now send you into the dark?
Does anxiety or depression seem related to specific times during your cycle?
The healthy balance of your hormones — the chemical messengers within the body — is essential to your health. Yes, psychologically as well as physically.
Let’s look at how…
Hormone imbalance: its profound impact on emotional well-being
There are dozens of hormones in the incredible human body. In this article series on women and hormones, we look at six: estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, thyroid-stimulating hormone, cortisol, and insulin.
Estrogen: a female mood hormone
Estrogen is considered a “female hormone” because it is essential for reproductive function in women. But this messenger also has a profound impact on mood.
The nervous system, including the brain, is rich with estrogen receptors: the “locks” that fit the key (estrogen) and allow it to act.
For example, the amygdala contains a wealth of estrogen receptors. This part of the brain is intimately tied to emotions. As an article published in the journal Current Psychiatry Research and Reviews said, it is “strongly linked to mood regulation.”
Estrogen, then, appears to play an essential role in mood…
As you already know, if you experience Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS).
Or the more severe and potentially disabling form, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD).
Or menopause that, with its sharp drop in estrogen, is linked to an increased risk — or recurrence — of anxiety and depression.
While there is no definitive explanation, PMS is thought to involve a “hormonal disproportion like estrogen surplus and progesterone deficiency.”
This can manifest as symptoms like:
— depressed mood
— emotional hypersensitivity
— food cravings
— increased anxiety
— mood swings
Progesterone: a potential mood modulator
Progesterone — dubbed the “pregnancy hormone” because of its role in gestational — works with estrogen to regulate the menstrual cycle. Like estrogen, its regular flux during the reproductive years may affect mood.
The authors of Progesterone: Friend or Foe point out that this hormone affects emotional processing and has “likely causal factors for the mood symptoms experienced by women with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).”
Cortisol: the stress hormone
Cortisol, often called the “stress hormone,” is vital in the stress response. When faced with an actual or perceived threat, it readies the body for ‘fight or flight.’ Part of this process is the release of cortisol.
Cortisol is a powerful hormone that increases energy by producing glucose and rerouting power from everyday functions — like digestion and reproduction — to the emergency reactions needed for survival. For example, to your muscles so you can fight or run.
But the stress response is taxing and only meant for short-term survival. A heavy toll is extracted when it becomes chronic and ongoing, as is common in our modern world. After all, you can’t sprint a marathon! This is borne out in mental health research.
The study Cortisol as a Biomarker of Mental Disorder Severity noted that changes in cortisol secretion:
— commonly occurs in clinical depression and bipolar disorder
— may point to impending mental illness like psychosis
— can cause psychiatric disorders
— might contribute to the relapse of bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia
— appears to increase the severity of depression
— affects mood. High acute levels can cause euphoria. Chronic high levels can trigger depression, emotional lability (rapid, often exaggerated mood changes), and irritability
It’s also been found to have a strong relationship with anxiety.
If you face ongoing stress, managing the strain is super important. Your mental health depends on it.
Our article, 7 Easy Ways to Reduce Stress, shares simple, practical approaches. (#3 is fast and potent)
The moody-blues thyroid
Do you have a thyroid issue? (Many people do, and many don’t know)
Do you suffer from symptoms like fatigue, unexplained changes in your weight, temperature intolerance… and a problematic mood?
These symptoms signal that your thyroid may be running too hot or cold. That an imbalance is at play.
The thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped powerhouse, sits at the front of the throat. Like its symmetrical shape, balance is crucial for a stable, healthy mood.
In fact, it’s so vital to emotional well-being that one group of researchers outright stated, “It is probable that one of the reasons for depression is a weakened metabolic action of thyroid hormones in the brain.”
Hypothyroidism, or low thyroid function, can result in:
— apathy (indifference, lack of interest)
— depressive symptoms
— low mood
— brain fog
Hyperthyroidism, or elevated thyroid function, is often accompanied by:
— dysphoria (general unease or dissatisfaction with life)
— emotional lability
It can also develop into:
— and rarely, psychosis
To learn more about this vital gland and how to keep it healthy, read Common Thyroid Problems: What Are They and How Do You Find Relief?
Testosterone: the (potentially) angry hormone
Do you have acne, excessive hair growth, feel down, or aggressive more than most?
You could have high testosterone.
For example, research showed that artificially elevating testosterone in 40-odd-year-old women raises amygdala reactivity, the emotion-related part of the brain we mentioned earlier. This reactivity is linked to depression.
High testosterone may also increase aggression and alter how women act toward others, promoting dominance-seeking behaviour.
Tip: The most common reason for women to have an elevated level of the “male hormone” is a condition called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
Insulin and its links to anger, sadness, and depression
The connection between insulin resistance (IR) and mood disorders is multifaceted. Biological, psychological, and lifestyle factors all play a role.
For example, stress and a high-sugar diet — both contributors to IR — negatively affect mood. You might have felt this when you’ve been under the pump or overindulging.
Insulin resistance may also point to the future development of clinical depression.
In those with diabetes — a condition that results from a lack of insulin production or insulin resistance — elevated blood sugar levels are linked to anger or sadness. Blood sugar dips can trigger nervousness. And people with diabetes who suffer from depression experience higher anxiety and increased anger.
Hormones play a crucial role in balancing your mood and emotional well-being.
From estrogen and progesterone’s mood-modulating roles, cortisol’s direct relationship with mental illness, the thyroid’s impact on emotional state, and testosterone and insulin’s links to aggression and depression, hormones significantly contribute to your frame of mind.
So, if you’re feeling psychologically off-kilter — or worse — it’s worth considering whether your hormones might play a role.
If you’re struggling, reach out to your health professional. Mental illness should never be ignored.