Hormones don't just impact you in your teenage years. While we're used to hearing about how hormones impact everything from our skin to our thoughts and actions as teens, it doesn't end there. Hormones play an essential role in mental health for women. In addition, balanced hormones play an important role in having a healthy mind and body.
Understanding the connection between hormones and mental health is important. When we have a hormonal imbalance, it can lead to or be the cause of challenges we face with our mental health.
The role of hormones in your body
The hormones in your body are chemical messengers. They let your body know what it needs to do and control many of its processes, such as reproduction and metabolism. When things are balanced, they work quietly in the background without notice. But when you have too much or too little of one or more hormones, it can toss many things off balance in your body.
It's normal for hormones to fluctuate at different periods of your life, such as during perimenopause and menopause, but an imbalance can also be a sign of a problem. Learning how to recognize the signs you're struggling with your hormones is the first step to being able to seek help and a treatment plan to get you feeling your best.
Symptoms of a hormonal imbalance
The following are general signs that may indicate you have a hormonal imbalance.
Sensitivity to heat or cold
Muscle aches, stiffness, or tenderness
Unexplained changes in weight
Changes in frequency of bowel movements
Increased hunger or thirst
Nervousness, irritability, or anxiety
Those can apply to anyone, but there are some signs that apply specifically to cisgender women, including:
Heavy or irregular periods
Excessive hair growth on the face, chin, or other parts of the body
Pain during sex
Darkening of the skin (mainly around the neck, groin, or under breasts)
What causes hormonal imbalances?
There are many things that can cause a hormonal imbalance in women. For starters, the changes in our bodies throughout different reproductive stages can cause some hormones to fluctuate or dip. This can include things like pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause. In addition, other reproductive-related situations can lead to hormonal imbalance. These can consist of taking birth control pills, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and premature menopause or primary ovarian insufficiency.
Other causes of hormone imbalance can include:
stress or trauma
There are also medical conditions that are both caused by and can worsen hormonal imbalance including hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, Cushing syndrome, and Addison's disease, among others.
The hormone and mental health connection
When our hormones get out of line, they can directly cause us to struggle with our mental health. For example, when estrogen and progesterone drop, we can experience an increase in irritability and anxiety. Or, if we have too much cortisol in our bodies, we are at higher risk for anxiety and depression. Because our hormones work as communicators and regulators of our mind and body, there is a direct connection.
This hormone-mental health connection can also lead to a cycle that can cause women to struggle. Hormonal imbalances and the symptoms they cause can lead to stress and anxiety. If you don't take action to address this, it can lead to depression or other mental health challenges. When you experience stress, anxiety, or depression, it can cause your hormones to get further out of balance, further impacting your mental health.
It's important to learn to recognize the symptoms of a hormonal imbalance so you can get help and create a treatment plan to balance your hormones and feel your best.
I think I have a hormonal imbalance; what do I do now?
If you identify with the list of symptoms above or feel you may have a hormonal imbalance, we encourage you to speak with a medical professional. When left unaddressed, a hormonal imbalance and resulting mental health challenges can negatively impact all areas of your life. In addition, the symptoms you experience may make it difficult for you to function in your daily life and put a strain on your relationships.
There are several natural strategies you can use to try balancing hormones while you work with a medical professional:
Make sure you're getting enough protein during meals
Maintain a healthy weight
Lower sugar consumption and follow a high fiber diet
Practice stress-reducing techniques like meditation or deep breathing
Get proper sleep
Treating your hormone imbalance and mental health
Because of the connection between hormones and mental health, many women benefit from working with a therapist while working on hormone management. The NEST Clinic offers a place in Stillwater, MN for women to partner with both professionals under one roof, allowing for smooth collaboration on your treatment plan. You can work with one of our licensed mental health professionals to address the mental health symptoms you're experiencing. And you can work with Brenda Reiter, our Certified Women's Nurse Practitioner and Certified Menopause Practitioner, for hormone management.
If you're interested in exploring your options for therapy or hormone management, please contact our office today.