Everyone experiences anxiety at one point or another, such as before an important test in school, an important presentation at work, during the holidays or when experiencing a crisis of any kind. Anxiety in these instances help you stay alert, focus on tasks at hand or make quick decisions. But when anxiety turns into an ongoing sense of apprehension, or begins to manifest as debilitating fear, it may be due to personality disorder or a hormonal imbalance. It's important to determine the cause of your anxiety and determine how to treat it.
Symptoms of anxiety include upset stomach, hot flashes and/or chills, sweating, heart palpitations, shortness of breath and severe headaches. These physical symptoms are also indicative of hormonal imbalances due to menopause, thyroid disorders or early ovarian failure. Along with these symptoms, however, comes a sense of fear or dread with no apparent cause. The mind fills with unwanted thoughts, thoughts of terrible things that will befall you or your loved ones, thoughts that something terrible is about to happen, or thoughts that you are being ridiculed behind your back.
When these fears and paranoid thoughts manifest themselves and then fade within 30 minutes or so, it is referred to as a panic attack. You may be so overwhelmed by the mental and physical symptoms that you feel unable to go on and instead try to escape, literally going home or someplace you feel safe. In such cases, you may have a personality disorder. In cases in which hormonal imbalances are the root cause, as opposed to a personality disorder, the anxiety may not be so severe as to be labeled a panic attack. Rather, it more closely resembles mood swings or depression. But rather than feeling sad or irritable, you feel apprehension and uneasiness.
Anxiety induced by hormonal imbalances, such as estrogen dominance in which the level of the hormone progesterone is very low, differs from those panic attacks associated with personality disorders such as bipolar or obsessive-compulsive disorders. But there are also similarities. Determining the root cause of the anxiety can determine which treatment is appropriate.
The inability to control the onslaught of negative thoughts is symptomatic in both panic attacks and anxiety. Anxiety, though, may be more consistent and you may display fewer physical symptoms. You may feel that "it is all in your head." The sense of anxiety may not be as exaggerated as for those suffering from personality disorders. Instead, you may feel uneasy in social situations, be reluctant to make decisions or continually worry over problems that are relatively minor. But your anxiety may not be limited to the more subtle form. In cases of severe hormonal imbalance, you may suffer full-blown panic attacks in which fear, though irrational, overwhelms your reasoning. You may be unable to explain why you are reacting to a simple incident as if it were a life crisis.
One of the characteristics of both panic attack and anxiety due to hormonal imbalances is the levels of cortisol in the system. Cortisol is the chemical released by the adrenals that activates the "fight or flight" response. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is the hormonal system that controls your mood. If you suffer from a hormonal imbalance, this system may go into overdrive. The result is that your body and mind will believe a threatening situation exists, which in turn results in feelings of apprehension, fear and dread.
Treatments for hormonal imbalance range from basic lifestyle changes to replacement hormone therapy. Bioidentical hormones, which are naturally occurring hormones found in plants and synthesized for human consumption, are a common treatment when anxiety is one of the symptoms of hormonal imbalance. In the case of severe panic attacks, such medications as benzodiazepines and antidepressants may be necessary to control the attacks. These are common treatments for personality disorders. Left untreated, mild anxiety can worsen, resulting in debilitating behavior patterns due to unwarranted fear. Whether the underlying cause is personality disorder or hormonal imbalance, effective treatment is available.