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Around 264 million people worldwide suffer from an anxiety disorder. For women, they are nearly five times as likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder than men. Anxiety can cause many significant problems in daily functioning, and severely impact a person’s quality of life. For women, can taking hormonal birth control cause or alleviate the symptoms of anxiety? The following article will explore what an anxiety disorder is and if birth control has any impact on anxiety.

What is an anxiety disorder?

Feeling anxious, or having anxiety is a typical response to a stressful situation, and it can sometimes be beneficial. Anxiety alerts someone to danger and compels them to be aware of their situation and take action to keep themselves out of harm’s way. But an anxiety disorder is a different matter entirely.

An anxiety disorder is when someone feels intense fear or stress about a future concern, and anxiety disorders are usually characterized by avoidant behaviors and physical symptoms that interfere with a person’s daily functioning. An anxiety disorder can cause someone to avoid normal situations, and the symptoms can significantly interfere with a person’s work, school, and personal relationships.

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For a person to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, their fears must be considered out-of-proportion to the situation, not age appropriate, and also impair the person’s ability to function normally. There are different types of anxiety disorders:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Panic disorders
  • Phobias
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Agoraphobia

Anxiety disorders are incredibly common and will affect up to 30% of all U.S. adults at some point in their lives. Anxiety disorders, although they are common and the symptoms debilitating, are highly treatable. A combination of medications and talk therapy can treat most cases of anxiety. Medications commonly used to treat depression, such as SSRIs and SNRIs, are also used for anxiety disorders.

However, it’s crucial that anxiety sufferers know and understand what triggers their symptoms and how to cope with stressful situations to prevent anxiety from getting out-of-hand.

The causes of anxiety are not completely understood, but genetic factors, temperament, and unique, biochemical characteristics can increase a person’s risk of experiencing anxiety symptoms. Mental health conditions like anxiety cannot be cured, but they can be effectively managed, and people can live symptom-free for life.

Can birth control impact or alleviate anxiety?

First, it’s important to understand how hormonal birth control works to appreciate its effect on emotions and moods fully.

During the menstrual cycle, the hormones progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone are continuously rising and falling. The rise and fall of each of these hormones trigger different biological responses, including ovulation and menstruation.

When a woman starts taking hormonal birth control, hormones are prevented from rising and falling as continuously, and in some cases, not at all. The body is exposed to a continuous level of hormones to trick the body into thinking it is already pregnant, thus preventing ovulation from occurring. If a woman takes monthly hormonal birth control pills, she will get a withdrawal bleed, which mimics a period, at the end of each month. But some hormonal birth control prevents even that from happening.

Hormonal birth control can cause some side effects, including decreased libido, spotting, and stomach upset. Also, there are mental health side effects that can occur, including mood swings, depression, and increased feelings of nervousness or anxiety. However, most people do not experience changes in mood or any adverse side effects while taking hormonal birth control, but it is a risk.

Both progesterone and estrogen are known to affect mood, and the hormonal birth control pill contains synthetic versions of these hormones. Research has found that women with a history of depression are at increased risk of experiencing mood swings and anxiety when taking hormonal birth control.

Can hormonal birth control alleviate symptoms of anxiety?

Hormones are complicated things, and the impact of hormonal birth control on each woman can vary significantly. However, the hormone progesterone is proven to decrease anxiety and depression symptoms and help someone sleep. Estrogen will increase levels of the important neurotransmitter serotonin, which is responsible for mood and emotional well-being. However, giving someone too much estrogen can also cause increased feelings of anxiety. If a woman has an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone, it can cause insomnia and anxiety.

Should women who have a history of depression or anxiety steer clear of hormonal birth control?

For women who are prone to anxiety and depression, hormonal birth control pills can make symptoms worse. Studies indicate that women who take combination oral contraceptives or progesterone-only minipills were more likely to be prescribed an antidepressant than women who did not take these types of contraceptives.

What types of contraceptives can women who are prone to anxiety use?

It’s common for women to try several different types of birth control before settling on an option that fits with both her lifestyle and specific biochemistry. There are many kinds of birth control that women can take and see which one will work for her. But as always, it’s important to talk to her doctor about any history of depression or anxiety before trying a new hormonal contraceptive method.

Currently, there is no known risk of depression or anxiety when using a hormonal or copper IUD, or the birth control ring or patch. The birth control implant also does not come with any adverse mental health side effect risks. IUDs and implants are long-acting, reversible birth control methods that can be removed whenever a woman wishes to become pregnant. IUDs and implants are also relatively easy to remove in case a woman has an adverse reaction to the hormonal cocktail present in the implant and hormonal IUD. The copper IUD, however, does not use hormones and it can be used for up to ten years.

For women with a history of anxiety, there are many different and effective birth control methods she can try until finding one that’s right for her. But it’s critical that women do their research on the different hormonal birth control methods, and thoroughly communicate with their doctors about their concerns and needs. Please sign up with Pandia Health today to find out which birth control methods are right for you.

The views expressed in this article intend to inform and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Pandia Health, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.