Anxiety and Panic Disorders
Feelings of anxiety or panic without an apparent or reasonable cause can be very troubling and frightening. Although anxiety and panic disorders can occur for different reasons, when hormones are out of balance uncomfortable symptoms related to anxiety can develop. Some of these symptoms are: worry, intense fear, agitation, irritability nervousness, irrational thoughts, and fear of losing control. These symptoms can be accompanied by a number of physical signs, including fight or flight reactions such as: pounding heart, palpitations rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, nausea, hot or cold flashes, chest pain, numb hands and feet, sweating, lightheadedness, shakiness, choking sensation, increased blood pressure and muscle tension.
Hormonal changes have been associated with heightened anxiety. There is an increase in anxiety and frequency of panic attacks during PMS, post-childbirth, perimenopause and menopause. Women with low progesterone levels are prone to anxiety, whereas women with decreased estrogen levels are susceptible to panic attacks. Estrogen helps to stimulate the production and transportation of serotonin around the body, and prevents its break down. Therefore, when estrogen levels are low serotonin is low and an unstable mood and anxiety can develop.
Stress plays a key role in the onset and aggravation of anxiety due to the alteration of hormone levels. Higher stress causes a rush of cortisol, adrenaline, and other chemicals into the bloodstream to prepare the body to fight or flee danger. The fight or flight response triggers the physiological changes associated with anxiety, such as rapid heartbeat, slowing digestion, shunting blood flow to major muscle groups as well as giving the body a burst of energy and strength. Cortisol and adrenaline both interfere with the synthesis of the calming, relaxation neurotransmitter and serotonin. Lack of sleep, poor nutrition, minimal exercise, stimulant usage, and negative thought patterns can also cause excessive cortisol release that may eventually result in anxiety in both men and women.
Although an overactive thyroid gland will more often trigger bodily symptoms that are similar to panic symptoms, occasionally an underactive thyroid gland (Hashimoto’s autoimmune thyroiditis) has been associated with anxiety and panic attacks as well.