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What to Know About Birth Control and Anxiety

Medically Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD on August 17, 2020

Many women in the United States use hormonal birth control at some period in their life to avoid pregnancy. Some people think that the extra hormones in your body from birth control can lead to changes in your mood, which can cause you to feel more anxious.

There’s still a lot that doctors don’t know about birth control and how it relates to anxiety. But limited research shows that there could be a link between anxiety and birth control -- it just might not be because of hormones.

How Hormonal Birth Control Works

Birth control pills that use estrogen and progestin will affect your body’s hormones. Your body makes estrogen, while progestin is a man-made version of the hormone progesterone, which your body makes as well.

To keep your body from an actual pregnancy, these pills copy what your body would do if you were pregnant. When you conceive, your body releases different levels of estrogen and progesterone. This happens in a similar way when you give your body these hormones through the birth control pill.

Estrogen and progestin will stop or slow down ovulation (when your ovary releases an egg). They’ll also make the mucus in your cervix thicker to stop sperm, and cause the lining of your uterus to thin so your egg is less likely to implant. All of these things will help to keep you from an unplanned pregnancy.

Hormones and Anxiety

Lower levels of estrogen can make you feel distressed. Women are at a higher risk for symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder when their body’s estrogen levels are low during their menstrual cycle.

But even though these hormones have a link to mental health, researchers aren’t sure if it’s the hormones in birth control that cause anxiety. Several studies have shown no connection between hormone levels and women’s emotional responses.

Some doctors think that women show signs of anxiety when they’re on hormonal birth control because of the mental reaction to using pills or devices to prevent pregnancy. They suggest that preventing pregnancy alone can cause women to be anxious, even with nonhormonal birth control.

Dealing With Anxiety When You’re On Birth Control

There isn’t enough information yet to fully explain why some women get anxiety while on hormonal birth control. But whether it’s due to hormones, or simply because of your body’s natural response to a drug that avoids pregnancy, there are ways to help ease your anxiety:

  • Eat healthy. Make sure that you don’t forget to eat every meal. Try to keep meals balanced and nutritious. Cut out alcohol or caffeine if you feel that they may make you more anxious.
  • Sleep. Lack of sleep will make your anxiety worse. Stay well-rested so that you feel refreshed the next day.
  • Take a break. Go for a walk, read, listen to music, or breathe deeply. Small breaks will help you feel focused and calm.
  • Break a sweat. Even if you have a busy day, a small workout can boost your mood.
  • Stay busy. A good schedule will help you focus on things other than your anxiety.

Remember that it’s normal to have changes in your emotions. Your anxiety and mental state will shift throughout your life. If you feel that it’s too much to handle, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about options that can help you deal with anxiety.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience: “A lifespan view of anxiety disorders.”A lifespan view of anxiety disorders

Human Brain Mapping: “Oral contraceptive pill use is associated with localized decreases in cortical thickness.”

American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology: “Contraception and Mental Health: A Commentary on the Evidence and Principles for Practice.”

Medical Hypotheses: “Do the emotional side-effects of hormonal contraceptives come from pharmacologic or psychological mechanisms?”

ACS Central Science: “The Chemistry of the Pill.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Birth Control: The Pill.”

Harvard University: “Taming the Cycle: How Does the Pill Work?”

The Harvard Gazette: “Estrogen and female anxiety.”

U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Progestin (Progesterone-Like Hormones) Induced Dysphoria (Depressed Mood, Irritability, Anxiety).”

Anxiety and Depression Association of America: “Tips to Manage Anxiety and Stress.”

Current Psychiatry Reviews: “Neurobiological Underpinnings of the Estrogen-Mood Relationship.”

Medical Hypotheses: “Do the emotional side-effects of hormonal contraceptives come from pharmacologic or psychological mechanisms?”

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