Gang, this week we’re talking mental health, but more specifically, how hormones can have an effect on how you feel.
Now, before you file this away under “Well… Duh,” allow us to, perhaps, blow your mind. Yes, anyone who identifies as a woman will already have some experience of this exact thing. But, mood-altering hormones reach much further than our usual estrogen malevolence. Can we say Vitamin D? Oh, yes. It’s a hormone. Intrigued? You should be…
Regular Hormonas will know that there are upwards of 70 known hormones that work all kinds of magic in the human body.
These chemical messengers regulate or play a role in almost every system in our bodies, from weight to temperature, fertility to heart health, and so many things in between. And of the hormones we know about, a good handful can dramatically affect your mental health if imbalances go unchecked.
Honestly gang, and we know we say this a lot but, strap in. For real. Seeing this all in one place may leave you needing a sit down. Because it’s a wonder any of us is ever mentally okay.
An imbalance of our chemical messengers
Again, if you’ve ever identified as a woman, you’re probably aware of the pitfalls of an estrogen imbalance. Too much, and anxiety and mood changes quickly manifest. Too little and it’s waterworks and depression for days.
But there are two other guests at the menstruation extravaganza, and they also have an effect on our moods. The first, progesterone, has a direct line to our brains through a particular neurotransmitter, one that helps us stay calm.
That description though, grossly underestimates what happens when you don’t have enough progesterone. If you’re menstruating or menopausal, when those levels drop, insomnia and brain fog are just around the corner. Both of which can lead to depression, irritability, mood swings, and just a ton of tears. And round it goes.
Now, while a lot of the hormones that we’re talking about are pretty much exclusively a chick thing, there are some that affect everyone, regardless of biology. Testosterone is one of them. Yup, all of us have a certain amount of the stuff, and we’re sure we all know what an overabundance of it can lead to.
However, if there’s too little testosterone in your body, you could be dealing with anxiety, loss of sex drive, lack of motivation, and low mood. Those going through menopause will undoubtedly experience some form of this, but biological men can get a testosterone deficiency diagnosis.
But testosterone isn’t the only hormone that can affect everyone’s mental health. In fact, there are at least four more that can directly influence your mental wellbeing.
Mental health hormones
Firstly, let’s talk stress. We know that it can have all sorts of physical effects, but it’s also intimately linked to emotional and neurological changes.
Why? Step forward cortisol, otherwise known as the stress hormone.
Although it’s associated with stress now, it’s also responsible for a specific survival mechanism. You’ve probably heard of a ‘Fight or Flight’ response. This happens as cortisol floods your body when you feel under threat. External stressors can produce a similar response. But instead of running like hell, you get anxious and depressed.
Like Miami… Vitamin D
Now we’re talking weather. Or more specifically, sunshine. If you’re unlucky enough to live in a place where the appearance of our star can best be described as sporadic, hello Britain, then you probably already have some experience of this.
Because you’ve most likely noticed that you sometimes feel less than stellar on a grey day. There’s a reason for that and it’s not because we’re sooo over grey.
Welcome to the world of Vitamin D. Which, believe it or not, is actually a hormone. We mostly get it from going about our daily business outdoors, but since the invention of buildings, that’s got a tad harder. No one’s really sure why, but a dearth of the stuff can have an enormous effect on your mood. The winter blues, it seems, can be entirely hormonal.
This is one of those times, though, where a supplement can actually make all the difference. We swear by them for this particular issue, and as you may have heard during lockdown, we can all do with topping up our Vitamin D. But less with the sunbathing, more with the supplement-taking.
Now let’s look at those hormonal nightmares that come with particular situations that mostly, or exclusively, affect those who identify as women.
Because even once you’re done with the roller-coaster of puberty, there’ still a whole other level of hormone hell waiting for you. Probably. We’ve discussed PMS, so let’s talk about the hormonal free-for-all that can occur before, during, and after pregnancy.
Or if you’re undergoing a course of IVF, or are at any stage of menopause, you’ll know how unpredictable those mental health changes can be. And they can go on for years. At this point, you may be starting to think that there simply isn’t any stage of our lives when our mental health isn’t being affected by hormones.
And, rather depressingly, you’d be right. And that’s just with all things being equal.
Hormone conditions and mental health
So imagine how bad things can get when, on top of all of that, you’ve also got a hormone condition. Graves, Hashimoto’s PCOS, the list is rather long and they all have one thing in common: How bad they can make you feel.
But it isn’t just deep depression or anxiety that can result from such a condition. In English law, there exists such a thing as the Graves Rage defense. No, you read that right. Graves can reach into the core of your being and turn you into something that needs to stand up in a court of law and mitigate for who knows what.
And hormones are to blame.
These scary ideas come to you courtesy of your endocrine system, which has roots deep in your brain. Any fritzing at all, whether it’s your thyroid or pituitary gland and you’re looking at a whole host of potential mental health issues. They won’t all end up in court, but they can make your life, and the lives of those you love, feel like a living hell.
But, perhaps what’s scariest about all of this, is that so few of us even have the first clue about what our individual, ideal hormone levels should be.
And neither do our doctors.
As we can so often be heard to scream, this is exactly why hormone therapies should be as individual as the patients they treat. Because as we’ve seen, not treating an imbalance can have horrendous consequences for our mental health. But in a similar fashion, over or under-treating any condition can be just as disastrous.
Help isn’t at hand… Yet
And while we know how important – and fragile – the relationship between hormones and mental wellbeing is, the medical community is taking a while to catch on. Although, if you’ve ever been menopausal, been given a treatment called Hormone Replacement Therapy, and then found your brain fog cleared, then it’s pretty clear why that catching on is taking so long.
For real, Doctors, the clue is in the name. We talked about this in great and mildly angered detail in a previous post, but suffice it to say, it’s cos we’re girls.
Why our chemical messengers – hormones – should be the first port of call
As always, it’s up to us to make sure our symptoms are not only recognized but taken as seriously as they frickin’ well should be. Now, we’re in no way saying that these things are willfully missed, nor are we saying that treatments don’t work. We’re simply saying the time, energy, and misdiagnoses we all go through when the answer is often obviously hormonal is insane.
To whit: if you recognize anything we’ve talked about today, even in the smallest way, tell someone. Get a blood test if you can. Keep records, in as much as you can, of your symptoms as evidence, the hormona app can help with that. Talk to someone you trust, and get that diagnosis.
But most importantly: take care of yourself. Do stuff that makes you happy. Because one of the best ways to take the edge off bad hormones is an influx of good ones. Chocolate bombs and Prosecco cocktails, er, we obviously mean endorphins and dopamine won’t fix it, but they might just give you a small break while you wait for treatment or relief. And a small win is still a win.
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