Do You Have Anxiety? Hyperthyroidism? How to Read the Signs
Over the past few years, the discussion of mental health has started to get the attention it deserves. True wellbeing isn’t just in the body; it’s also in the mind. But as research shows us again and again – the two are connected in many ways.
One of those connections: your thyroid and anxiety.
Anxiety disorders are the No. 1 cause of mental illness in the United States. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, almost 20% of the population will experience effects of an anxiety disorder every year.
These stem from all sorts of causes: trauma, personality, genes…
…and possibly your thyroid.
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If you struggle with anxiety – whether that be an anxiety disorder or occasional flare-ups of worry and fear – it’s important to understand that a thyroid disorder could be playing a role.
You know what the good news is? Rebalancing your thyroid is possible. Anxiety improvement may be on the way!
Start by Understanding the Thyroid
Before we can understand how the thyroid can cause anxiety, it’s helpful to know what the thyroid does.
Your little thyroid (found in the neck) has one big job: create and release your T3 and T4 hormones. T3 and T4 are responsible for the metabolism process of each cell in your body.
This means your thyroid controls:
- Temperature regulation
- And more
Your pituitary gland (the “master” gland) tells your thyroid to produce those two hormones through a messenger called TSH, thyroid stimulating hormone.
If everything works properly, those thyroid hormones release into the blood and get passed to all the organs that need them.
If it’s not working properly, your thyroid either sends too much (hyperthyroidism) or too little (hypothyroidism) thyroid hormone. This causes your body to be either overstimulated or under-stimulated, respectively.
Then you start to feel the symptoms – some of which have to do with your mental health. In fact, in between 2% to 12% of patients, psychiatric changes are reported as the first thyroid disorder symptom.
What’s the Relationship Between Hyperthyroidism and Anxiety?
Anxiety is most often connected to hyperthyroidism. Here’s why:
When you have too much T3 and T4, your metabolism goes into overdrive (think of it like a car going over the speed limit), and you get symptoms that match that concept:
- Fast/irregular heart rate
- Unintentional weight loss
- Diarrhea and/or more frequent bowel movements
- Trouble tolerating heat
So, it should be no surprise that that overdrive happens to your nervous system and brain as well… leading to symptoms such as:
- Mood swings
These are all hallmark signs of an anxiety disorder or panic attack. The fact that so many symptoms of hyperthyroidism are similar means misdiagnosis can be a problem.
An article on Psychology Today recounts the experience of one doctor taking his patient with acute panic attacks through all the traditional means of treatment like medication and therapy. They were all completely unsuccessful.
I then had an off-hand conversation with a colleague about a bi-polar patient whose inexplicable decompensation into paralyzing depression turned out to be a case of mono, and that conversation got me thinking. I was reminded of a handful of cases I had seen involving endocrine imbalance. It wasn't something that had previously occurred to me because, at 30, Aubrey was so young, and, to the best of my knowledge, she'd never been pregnant. I suggested to her that she get some blood work—a simple test that measures the levels of thyroxine and thyroid-stimulating hormone(TSH), or thyrotropin—and that test confirmed what I had begun to suspect—hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism, Anxiety and You
In the same way hyperthyroidism speeds everything up too much, hypothyroidism slows it way down. You get many opposite symptoms such as:
- Slow heart rate
- Weight gain
- Trouble tolerating cold
So, it also makes sense that the affect hypothyroidism tends to have on mental health is depression, one of the more common side effects.
However, just because hypothyroidism is often connected to depression does not mean those with hypothyroid won’t have anxiety.
Studies show they do.
One study looked at 100 patients with hypothyroidism. They found 63% of them had anxiety – at various levels. Compare that to the U.S. average of 18.1%.
And 30% of those with an anxiety also have Hashimoto’s disease – the No. 1 cause of hypothyroidism.
Doctors believe this may have to do with the fact that hypothyroidism is related to autoimmune disease – and more and more evidence is showing anxiety and depression may be too.
Is Your Anxiety Thyroid Related?
Getting your thyroid checked may be a great option….
- If you have tried some of the more conventional ways of treating anxiety with little to no affect
- If you have any of the other symptoms associated with a thyroid disorder
Since hyperthyroidism is more likely to lead to anxiety, let’s start there. Here are the most common symptoms of having too much T3 and T4:
- Unintentional weight loss
- Rapid heartbeat
- Irregular heartbeat
- Heart palpitations
- Increased appetite
- Mood swings
- Menstrual changes
- Sensitivity to heat
- More frequent bowel movements
- Goiter (enlarged thyroid gland)
- Muscle weakness
- Thinning skin
- Fine, brittle hair
Since hypothyroidism can lead to anxiety too, here are the most common symptoms:
- Sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Puffy face
- Elevated blood cholesterol levels
- Decreased sweating
- Muscle aches, weakness, tenderness, or stiffness
- Joint pain
- Heavy, irregular, or missed periods
- Dry or thinning hair
- Slowed heart rate
- Impaired memory
Either thyroid condition can be easily spotted with a simple blood test.
5 Quick Ways to Improve Thyroid-Related Anxiety
If you find out your anxiety is indeed related to your thyroid, there are plenty of things you can do to improve your condition!
Surprisingly, anti-anxiety meds are probably not going to be the first line of treatment for somebody whose thyroid is causing their anxious symptoms. (It is possible your doctor will try that method after your thyroid has been balanced if the issue persists. You could still have an anxiety disorder beyond what was related to your thyroid.)
Here are the steps you can expect to take to not only ease your anxiety, but also to get your thyroid back in working order.
1. Hyperthyroidism Treatment Options
If your anxiety stems from hyperthyroidism, there are a few things your doctor may do to lower the production and release of T3 and T4:
- Anti-Thyroid Medication: These pills do exactly what their name suggestions – reduce the excess thyroid hormones. Sometimes these pills need to be taken forever; sometimes they get rid of the problem in a year or so.
- Radioactive Iodine: This treatment actually shrinks your thyroid gland. The radioactive iodine exits the body, and you are left with a thyroid that produces less hormone (be aware: sometimes this works too well and you actually have to start taking synthetic hormones).
- Surgery: This is a rare option. In the most extreme cases (or if you are pregnant), your doctor may remove part or all of your thyroid. These patients will need synthetic thyroid hormone treatment for the rest of their lives.
- Beta Blockers: While these medications are originally for treating high blood pressure, they have been known to improve the symptoms of hyperthyroidism similar to anxiety symptoms – like a racing heart. These are often given until your other treatment options kick in.
In the Psychology Today case discussed earlier, the patient started on a beta blocker right away, as well as an anti-thyroid.
With treatment, Aubrey began to feel better immediately. Her psychiatric symptoms all but vanished, and, she says, "I felt human again." Her eyes clear and her skin no longer splotchy, Aubrey appeared to me as the woman whom I had seen previously only in flashes; vibrant, alive and quite literally shimmering with vitality. No longer feeling overwhelmed, or plagued by the sense that everything was closing in on her, she felt that she had gotten her life back, and she was again intent on living it.
2. Desiccated Thyroid Extract
If your anxiety is related to hypothyroidism, your treatment plan will be pretty straightforward. You will need to take synthetic versions of T3 and T4 to increase your hormone levels and bring your body back up to the right speed.
There is an option to use the thyroid hormones of animals. This is called desiccated thyroid extract. Some people prefer this as a more “natural” option.
One study of 70 hypothyroid patients showed 49% preferred the desiccated thyroid extract where only 19% preferred the synthetic levothyroxine alternative (the rest had no preference).
Talk to your doctor about the right option for you.
3. Ashwagandha for Hypothyroidism
If you have hyperthyroidism, skip this step and move on to #4.
Ashwagandha is a well-loved adaptogenic herb that has been shown time and time again to relieve stress and anxiety.
It has also been shown to increase thyroid hormones. For somebody who is dealing with anxiety and hypothyroidism this may be a great supplement.
Just be sure to talk to your doctor to ensure it doesn’t interfere with your treatment plan.
4. Always More Vitamin D
In today’s world, Vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies around.
And it’s even more common for people with thyroid disorders to have low Vitamin D.
Not only will a Vitamin D deficiency lead to problematic symptoms like fatigue, pain, and more infections…but it can also raise your risk of developing anxiety and depression.
Here are 3 ways to get more Vitamin D:
- Take an outdoor walk: While we don’t want to get too much sun exposure, spending all day inside our homes and offices is preventing our bodies from getting the sunlight it needs to convert to vitamin D.
- Eat more dairy and meat: The highest sources of vitamin D are found in animal products. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, focus on eating more mushrooms and plant-based milk fortified with D.
- Try a D3 supplement: A little extra boost of vitamin D may be what you need to be feeling your best.
5. Mental Health Tools to Have Handy
While treating your thyroid may rid you of your anxiety, two other things can still be true:
- It may take a while for your doctor to find the right balance of thyroid treatment. This could leave you with some anxiety until your thyroid is back on track.
- It is still possible to have anxiety beyond your thyroid issue.
In either case, it is imperative to learn the lifestyle tools that can help ease your anxiety. These include:
- Schedule regular meditation or prayer
- Limit alcohol
- Limit caffeine
- Use breathing exercises (example: breathing in for 5, holding for 2, breathing out for 5)
- Try Therapy
- Never skip meals
- Watch uplifting and funny TV
- Spend time with encouraging friends
- Say no to people or activities that bring you stress
- Use lavender or frankincense essential oils
- Drink chamomile tea before bed
- Pay down debt or boost up emergency savings to lower financial stress
- Declutter your home
- Start a gratitude journal
Finally, regular exercise is great. Be sure to focus on more low-intensity choices until your thyroid hormones are where they’re supposed to be. Yoga, swimming, neighborhood walks, etc. are great choices.
Once your thyroid is in check, you can step up your workouts and try new things.
Healthy Thyroid = Lower Anxiety
It’s so important to realize that physical problems can lead to anxiety. And it’s great to know that simple solutions – like anti-thyroid or synthetic thyroid medications – can make a lasting improvement on your mental wellbeing.
If you think your thyroid may be to blame for your worry, fear, nervousness, panic, make a visit to your doctor today. Not only will your anxiety begin to calm, but your whole body should be feeling better as well.