How anxiety affects hormones
It is easy to find ourselves rushing around, trying to look after everyone else and forgetting to look after ourselves. Being 'busy' is the norm for current generations, with the added pressure of feeling instantly accessible by phone or email, and living up to expectations on social media.
It's not surprising that more and more of us are reporting feeling anxious, worried and overwhelmed, and this can have a profound effect on our hormones and our health.
How does stress and anxiety affect hormones?
When we're anxious or worried we produce cortisol and adrenaline, these are the body’s 'stress and survival’ hormones. If levels of these hormones are raised over a long period of time this can interfere with the pituitary gland and its ability to produce our reproductive hormones.
Cortisol is produced from progesterone (one of the sex hormones in a woman’s cycle), meaning as cortisol rises, your progesterone levels decrease and are depleted. In turn, this can reduce libido, make periods irregular or stop them completely and produce mood swings, which can show as anxiety, depression and irritability. Other signs of anxiety can be feeling tearful, having trouble sleeping or feeling unusually fearful.
It’s easy to see how we can get trapped in this cycle of daily, generalised anxiety, so what can we do about it?
Simple tips to ease anxiety naturally during your menstrual cycle
1. Nourishing Foods
Fats are the building blocks of hormones, so incorporate essential fatty acids fats in your diet. Avocados, ghee, nuts, seeds and oily fish are all great examples of healthy fats.
Avoid foods that produce high fluctuations in blood sugar levels such as processed sugars. Instead opt for complex carbohydrates-think wholegrains and starchy vegetables Eat more protein and healthy fats to help your blood sugar levels stay consistent which will alleviate mood swings. If blood sugar levels drop too low, adrenaline is released to increase the blood glucose and correct the imbalance. This kick starts the stress response, leaving you feeling jittery with a foggy mind.
Avoid too many stimulants like alcohol or caffeine. If you are a caffeine fiend, try switching to matcha, which doesn’t cause you to crash, instead it provides a sustained release of energy thanks to the amino acid, L-theanine, which creates a calm-yet-alert state of mind
2. Adaptogens for Stress
Some plants, aptly named ‘adaptogens’, can help the body adapt to stress. One adaptogen that is worth getting to know is ashwagandha - a plant that naturally nourishes the nervous system.
A number of studies suggest that ashwagandha has anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects. It is a calming and strengthening herb which helps the body to deal with the pressures of modern-day life.
Poor sleep worsens the emotional symptoms of PMS, leaving you feeling irritable and even more anxious. Ashwagandha’s restorative effect on the body has been shown to improve sleep quality and quantity. If you are well rested, you’ll be better equipped to deal with emotional and physical demands of a busy life.
3. Connect with other women
Many of us live miles away from our mothers and sisters yet we are essentially cooperative, social creatures who are designed to help and support each other through all the different stages of life.
Don’t be afraid to ask your female friends for help and find supportive women to spend time, share experiences and laugh with. All these experiences we share with other females can help us tap into our natural feel-good ‘love hormone’ - oxytocin.
4. Find a daily movement routine that works for you
Get outside whenever you can. Go for a walk and breathe in the fresh air. Find a class that you can get to regularly. Discover the power of yoga to remind you how amazing the human body is and to help develop your ability to stay calm and centered in challenging situations.
5. Practice mindfulness and acceptance
Practice being in the here and now, remind yourself that life is made up of a series of little moments and this is one of them, don’t miss it.
Close your eyes and listen to your breath in the back of your throat, see if you can slow it down, try inhaling for a count of three and exhaling for a count of six.
As you do this relax your jaw and your shoulders, notice how this makes you feel.
Remember you are a beautiful person, who is designed to ride the ebb and flow of life, accept whatever is happening right now, you’re exactly where you are meant to be, and the only certainty in life is that everything changes.
Women are cyclical by nature, whisper this mantra to yourself – ‘I have noticed this, I accept this, I know it will change’.
Author: Marion Mackonochie
Senior Herbal Specialist
Marion is Senior Herbal Specialist at Pukka and a practising medical herbalist dedicated to furthering herbal knowledge and understanding. Degrees in pharmacology (UCL) and herbal medicine and a masters degree in plant chemistry and medicinal natural products (UCL) mean she is well placed to help plan Pukka’s extensive programme of herbal research, as well as advising across Pukka on herb benefits. She has worked on the Journal of Herbal Medicine since its launch in 2011 and is currently Associate Editor.
BSc qualified in herbal medicine (Middlesex Uni, 2009), MSc (mCPP) qualified in pharmacology & physiology (UCL, 2002), MSc medicinal natural products and phytochemistry (UCL, 2016)
Years of experience
12 years in medical herbalism
Member of College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy