Hormones are chemicals that exist in our bodies as part of the endocrine system. They function as chemical messengers, allowing cells in various sections of our body to communicate with one another. Distinct hormones perform different functions and convey different messages. Each one serves a specific purpose and has a unique composition.
When hormones are off-balance, it can manifest as other symptoms. Mental illness and stress may be one of the manifestations of a hormonal imbalance. Many people don’t understand the connection between hormones and mental health. In this article, we shall examine the relationship between hormones and mental health.
Almost all of your hormones affect your mood, emotions, and mental health in one way or another.
Let’s take a closer look at how hormones influence our mental health, including which particular hormones are at play, what happens when hormones fluctuate or become imbalanced, and how to manage any hormone changes you may be experiencing.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Are the Main Hormones?
- 2 The Impact of Hormonal Changes on Mental Health
- 3 Hormonal Imbalances and Mental Health
- 4 Managing Hormonal Changes to Improve Mental Well-Being
What Are the Main Hormones?
Hormones are secreted by a group of endocrine glands found throughout the body. These glands include:
- Pituitary gland
- Pineal gland
- Thyroid gland
- Adrenal glands
Almost all of your hormones affect your mood, emotions, and mental health in one way or another. Here’s what to know about some of the hormones that have the most impact on your mental health.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate your mood and behavior. It’s also responsible for memory functioning. Imbalances of serotonin are thought to play a role in certain psychiatric conditions, including depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Dopamine, as well as dopamine receptors throughout the body, play an important role in our moods and emotions. Additionally, dopamine is involved in the rewards system in our brains.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that controls stress in the body. Specifically, it’s involved in the body’s stress response, which gets activated when we are faced with stressful and scary situations.
Cortisol puts our “fight or flight” system into gear, including the bodily reactions (increased heart rate, rapid breathing) that occur when it’s triggered.
Thyroid hormones are secreted by your thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck. Thyroid hormones influence metabolism, your heart, your lungs, and your muscles.
Too little or too much thyroid hormone can cause symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The main sex hormones for women are estrogen and progesterone, which fluctuate and change throughout the menstrual cycle, during pregnancy, and later in life, when menopause occurs.
These hormones greatly affect mood, emotions, and sexuality. Testosterone is the main male hormone and also affects moods, behavior, and sexual feelings.
The Impact of Hormonal Changes on Mental Health
Your hormones are constantly changing throughout your day and throughout your life. Hormones guide your growth and development in childhood and adolescence. In women, they influence menstruation and reproduction. Stress in your life impacts levels of hormones like cortisol.
Hormones can have a big impact on your mental health.
Many of the hormonal changes you experience in life affect your emotions and overall mental well-being. “Hormones can have a big impact on your mental health,” says Nina Vasan, MD, psychiatrist and chief medical officer a Real. Monthly hormonal changes around the menstrual cycle can lead to mood and irritability issues, Dr. Vasan says. During menopause, estrogen, and progesterone levels decrease, which can lead to anxiety and depression, she adds.
Additionally, thyroid hormone changes can have strong mental health effects, according to Dr. Vasan. “Too much or too little thyroid hormone can cause anxiety,” she describes. “Hormones have a direct connection to how we feel mentally and physically.”
Hormonal Imbalances and Mental Health
“The ultimate goal of the endocrine glands is to maintain a balanced state of ‘homeostasis,’” explains Aron Tendler, MD, BrainsWay chief medical officer. “When this is lost, the endocrine glands will drive to restore it.”
During times of hormonal imbalance, you may experience various bodily changes, including mental health symptoms, says Dr. Tendler. “This is why patients with endocrinological disorders have mental health symptoms,” he says.
Examples of hormonal imbalances that affect mental health include:
- Thyroid conditions, like hypothyroidism (too little thyroid hormone), which is usually linked to low mood or depression, or hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone), which is usually linked to irritability and anxiety
- Premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), are caused by hormonal fluctuations and are linked to significant mood swings and emotional upheaval
- Postpartum depression, a serious mood disorder, is linked to rapidly changing hormones during and after childbirth
- Perimenopause and menopause, which are characterized by severe mood swings, depression, and anxiety, are caused by significant drops in the hormone estrogen
Managing Hormonal Changes to Improve Mental Well-Being
If you suspect your hormones are impacting your mental health, it’s best to visit a healthcare provider to get a diagnosis and discuss treatment options. This may be your primary care provider, your OB-GYN, or a psychiatrist. Dr. Tendler says that often, a type of doctor called an endocrinologist is the recommended physician to see when you are dealing with a potential hormone issue.
When treating hormone changes and mental health, it’s usually best to take a holistic approach, addressing lifestyle changes, prescribing medication, and employing different therapy modalities to manage your symptoms.
Here’s what to know.
“Life changes can go a long way to improve hormone issues and, in turn, improve wellness,” explains Dr. Vasan. She recommends a few main areas to focus on in order to bring your hormones into homeostasis:
- Make sure to get enough sleep
- Add more exercise into your daily routine
- Stick to a diet that focuses on whole foods, rather than processed foods
- Make sure to talk about your feelings, including starting therapy when needed
The types of medication used to treat mental health issues brought on by hormones or hormone imbalances vary based on which hormones and bodily systems are impacted.
“Medications can help alleviate the effects of hormone imbalance,” says Dr. Vason. For example, she says, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a helpful way to address some of the mood changes that occur during menopause and perimenopause.
In addition to HRT, other medications used to address hormonal imbalances include:
- Thyroid medications to address hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism
- Birth control pills, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medication to address symptoms of PMS
- Antidepressants to address postpartum depression
As with medications, therapy options for hormonal imbalances will depend on the symptoms you’re experiencing.
Some options may include:
- Depression symptoms are usually treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, behavioral therapy, systemic therapy, and various forms of psychoanalysis
- Anxiety is often treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy
- PMS may be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy and various types of relaxation therapies, like meditation and breathing exercises
In summary, hormones play a powerful role in our overall well-being and mental health. Sometimes changes in our hormones can make life challenging and can have strong impacts on our daily functioning. If you have any questions or concerns about how your hormones are affecting your mental health, it’s important that you reach out to a healthcare provider for a diagnosis and treatment.
I hope you find this article helpful as well as interesting.