Not many people know that hormones have an important role to play in deciding the level of anxiety they experience. People who specifically suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) may see that the level of hormones determine their degree of anxiety.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, fifth edition (DSM – 5) anxiety disorders are classified into three categories. These include anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive and related disorders, and traumatic and stressor-related disorders.
Read: Social Comparison theory
SAD is one of the prevalent and impairing disorders which is marked by submissiveness, social avoidance, and social fear. And hormonal changes as a result of psychological and biological interaction may lead to such submissive, avoidant, and fearful behavioral patterns.
Understanding Hormones That May Result in Increased Social Anxiety
Hormones are chemicals including steroids, peptides, and proteins that are generated and released by glands of the endocrine system. These are released directly into the bloodstream and act on one or more organs to control their functionality.
These are chemical messengers that maintain communication between various organs of the body and also encourage or curb their activity.
Based on their structure, hormones are categorized as follows:
Now there are certain hormones whose imbalance result in increased social anxiety These are as follows.
Hormones Leading to Social Anxiety
1. Stress Hormones – Cortisol and Adrenaline
Chronic stress may result in hormonal imbalance and aggravate anxiety. Stressors in your life can stimulate stress hormones that generate a number of physiological changes like rapid heart beat, increased blood-pressure, tensed muscles, etc.
Whenever you are in a stressful situation, the stress response gets activated in the brain. Your senses send signals of danger to the amygdala, a brain region that is responsible for all the emotional processing.
Amygdala is like the watchdog of emotions that analyses images and sounds based on the stored memories. Thus, the moment it senses danger, it sends this stress signal to the hypothalamus.
Hypothalamus is the center in the brain that is responsible for communicating with the rest of the body via the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is further divided into sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Where the sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for fight and flight, boosts energy, and controls the automatic function like breathing, digesting, etc, the parasympathetic counters this energy and calms the body down onces the danger has passed.
Thus, once the amygdala senses danger, it sends stress signals to the hypothalamus via the sympathetic nervous system to the adrenal glands.
The adrenal glands then release Adrenaline, a stress hormone that prepares your body for fight or flight and boosts energy.
Once the adrenaline rush settles, the hypothalamus stimulates the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis. Such an activation results in hypothalamus releasing the corticotropin -releasing hormones which reach the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland then releases the adrenocorticotropic-releasing hormone , which reaches the adrenal gland and triggers the release of cortisol, another stress hormone.
Now, both adrenaline and cortisol are stress hormones and put your body into a high alert zone. Chronic stress may lead to release of these hormones and may put your body into alert state for a prolonged period of time. This may create hormonal imbalance which may add to your anxiety.
Likewise, life stressors like job dissatisfaction may release these hormones and may prepare your body for fight or flight, without the presence of any actual physical threat. This, yoo, may lead to hormonal imbalance and add to your anxiety.
2. Sex Hormones – Estrogen and Testosterone
Much like stress hormones, sex hormones like testoerone and estrogen also add to social anxiety.
Lower levels of testosterone are associated with increased anxiety. With women having less testosterone levels as compared to men, they are likely to have more anxiety disorders.
Likewise, fluctuating female sex hormone estrogen during, puberrtty, menstrual cycle, and menopause is resonsible for adding to social anxiety and associated fearfulness.
Further, sex and stress hormones together may add to social anxiety. For instance, stressors result in increased cortisol which lowers the testosterone levels, adding to anxiety.
3. Thyroid Hormones – Thyroxine and Triiodothyronine
People suffering from thyroid may experience worse case of social anxiety. The release of thyroid hormones such as thyroxine and triiodothyronine into the bloodstream result in increased heart rate, sweating , and palpitations, and increased anxiety levels.
However, there are certain hormones that may decrease your social anxiety levels. These are as follows.
Hormones That Decrease Social Anxiety
As mentioned earlier, decreased testosterone levels may result in higher anxiety. Thus, keeping the testosterone levels in check may reduce social fear, anxiety, and associated submissiveness.
Since men have higher levels of testosterone as compared to females, this may be one of the reasons why they have lesser anxiety issues.
Oxytocin is the hormone that is produced in the hypothalamus and is released into the bloodstream by the pituitary gland that is located at the base of the brain. This hormone is secreted during childbirth, sexual intercourse, and lactation to support reproductive function.
It is also linked to relationship building, trust, and empathy. It is commonly known as a love hormone as it is typically released during hugging and orgasm.
In addition to this, it helps in social bonding and this impacts social behavior. Therefore, increased levels of oxytocin help in relieving stress and reducing social anxiety.
How to Increase Testosterone and Oxytocin?
There are a number of natural ways in which testosterone and oxytocin hormones can be boosted to reduce social anxiety.
Thus, testosterone levels can be boosted by:
- Taking proper sleep
- Having a healthy diet
- Eating multivitamins as suggested by the physician
Likewise, oxytocin can be boosted by:
- Being empathetic
- Hugging or cuddling
- Being kind and listening to others
- Having a healthy diet
You may consult your physician and consider some of the best anxiety supplements to deal with anxiety.
For instance, kava is one of the best anxiety supplements to deal with anxiety and stress. Other natural anxiety supplements include ashwagandha, valerian root, etc.
Go For CBT
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is another way to alter the neural wiring and create new neural pathways that can help in overcoming social fears and associated submissiveness.