Seasonal depression and holiday blues occur even during the best of times. With the additional stress of COVID-19, this holiday season may leave many women feeling more worn out. Juggling modified work and school schedules along with the unknown can make playing Santa extra challenging. Plus, engaging in the usual holiday festivities of eating more sugar, sleeping less, drinking more alcohol, and doing too much can throw your hormone levels out of balance.
Being aware of hormonal imbalances that can be experienced during the holiday season can help you recognize what is causing your stress and how to minimize it.
Commonly known as the “stress” hormone, cortisol activates your “fight or flight” response. Cortisol is naturally released in response to events such as waking up in the morning, exercising, and any event that puts your mind or body under stress. During a stressful response cortisol prepares the body to “fight or flight” by flooding it with glucose that supplies an immediate energy source to large muscle groups. Insulin production is inhibited to allow glucose to be used versus being stored and your heart rate increases. Long term elevated cortisol levels can cause blood sugar imbalance, weight gain, and increase your risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Additionally, cortisol helps reduce inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation caused by a stressful lifestyle can keep your cortisol levels high. This, in turn, wreaks havoc on your immune system. A weakened immune system can cause you to become more susceptible to colds, illnesses, and diseases.
Your thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your throat that regulates how fast your body burns energy. It works in tandem with your adrenal glands which produce cortisol. Low thyroid, called hypothyroidism, will cause you to feel sluggish or foggy, gain weight and have low energy. These are the same symptoms of clinical depression. Additionally, an overactive thyroid, called hypothyroidism, is linked to clinical anxiety.
Stress alone does not cause a thyroid imbalance, but an overactive or underactive thyroid gland can elevate your stress and cause other medical conditions you have to become worse. Insomnia, anxiety, irritability, weight gain, memory loss and fatigue are a few signs that your thyroid levels aren’t balanced. Healthy thyroid levels keep your metabolism in balance, your weight stable, and will improve your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
Often called the “obesity hormone” and the “starvation hormone,” Leptin is produced by your fat cells and communicates to your brain that you have stored enough fat, which then curbs your appetite and tells you that you are no longer hungry. The primary function of leptin is to help your body maintain its weight. With the rush-rush-rush of the holidays, staying out late, and eating at irregular times you can set your body up for leptin dysfunction.
Low leptin levels can cause you to never feel satisfied after eating and to feel hungry all the time. Obviously, this can lead to weight gain and difficulty losing weight. Low leptin levels can contribute to depression. Leptin also increases cortisol, which stores fat and burns muscle, and can contribute to holiday hormonal imbalance.
Estrogen and Progesterone
It is well known that estrogen levels in women affect mood. In fact, estrogen plays a major role in how women experience anxiety and depression. This is one of the reasons why women are more likely to experience anxiety and depressive disorders than men. During menopause when estrogen levels are at their lowest, women become especially susceptible to depression. Estrogen levels are also linked to women’s mood changes occurring during premenstrual syndrome and post-partum depression. The release of the “feel good” brain chemical serotonin is especially sensitive to estrogen fluctuations and impacts brain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, that are tied to mood.
Progesterone is produced primarily in the ovaries but also produced in the adrenal glands. It is a pre-hormone of cortisol (“stress” hormone). This means that a high amount of stress, such as holiday pressures, can cause your body to try and produce more than it’s able and thereby “stealing” from cortisol’s pre-hormone, progesterone. This depletes your progesterone levels and causes anxiety, mood swings, night sweats.
In addition to causing water retention and low energy, estrogen and progesterone imbalances also contribute to weight gain and difficulty losing weight. No one likes to end the holiday season and begin the new year with a few extra pounds that you gained just because your hormones weren’t balanced.
Bioidentical Hormone Therapy
Bioidentical hormone therapy can bring your hormones back into balance. They can give your mood a boost and minimize seasonal depression. Bioidentical hormones are identical to the hormones which are produced naturally in your body. They are so identical, in fact, that your body can’t distinguish the difference. These hormones are easily assimilated into the body and your body recognizes them as their own which reduces side effects or potential risks.
The Riegel Center in Plano, Texas focuses on therapies for women and men with symptoms of age-related hormonal changes. A recognized hormone expert who specializes in age management medicine, Dr. Riegel offers exclusive therapies that are customized for your exact hormone levels. Wondering if you can benefit from bioidentical hormone therapy? Take our Hormone Balance Quiz to find out!