Off-Balance: Hormones, Mental Health, and Motherhood - Handel Behavioral Health
Mental Health Blog

Off-Balance: Hormones, Mental Health, and Motherhood

September 5, 2023

A woman in a sweater and pants is laying on the dock looking out at a lake and mountains. There are two short dock posts on either side of her and one has a rock balancing on it. The woman's pose looks meditative, tired yet restorative, and peaceful yet somber. She is a mother living with hypothyroidism, a hormonal imbalance of the thyroid.

“Looking back at it, I realized the hypothyroidism was affecting how I was interacting with my partner, my energy and confidence put toward my work, and my overall ability to balance my emotions and cope with everyday stressors at home.”

Jenny was first diagnosed with hypothyroidism whilst taking care of her baby full-time through the pandemic. 

Her periods were irregular, intense, and more frequent. Her energy levels took a nosedive, she felt cold and weak during the day, and uncomfortably hot at night. 

Jenny knew, from the physical signs, that her body wasn’t operating at its regular state. 

What Jenny didn’t realize after being diagnosed with hypothyroidism- and many women don’t- is that hormonal changes of both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can bring huge changes in mood, and for many, a heightened risk of anxiety and depression.

In this lived experiences series, Jenny shares her story of developing hypothyroidism, and working with a therapist to manage the unforeseen symptoms- like anxiety and depression- that hormonal imbalances can bring.

This is not a case study, but rather a story from a real individual resulting from a candid conversation.

Jenny’s Journey with a Hormonal Imbalance

Jenny started to recognize the signs that her body was going through big hormonal changes many months after going through the in vitro fertilization (IFV) process, giving birth, and then starting and stopping weaning. 

“I was having strange periods frequently, sometimes as often as every other week,” she says.

She began to develop psoriasis, and was having regular bouts of angular cheilitis- “Both of which were very unwelcome!” Jenny adds.

“I thought that I was going through hormonal changes, and that my immune system was weak from poor sleep,” says Jenny. 

After going to her OB-Gyn and getting blood-work done, Jenny discovered that she had hypothyroidism: a condition in which your thyroid gland is under-active and unable to make and release enough thyroid hormone that your body needs.

How Hypothyroidism Was Impacting Jenny’s Mental Health:

“I was riddled with anxiety at night, fighting with my partner, and feeling really low about myself,” says Jenny. 

It was disheartening for Jenny, a new mom, to face this new chapter of her life with feelings of depression and anxiety that didn’t go away, and didn’t make sense to her.

How Hormones Play a Role in Women’s Mental Health:

From the time women get their first period, through pregnancy, and then through menopause, women experience cycles of hormonal shifts that affect their brain chemistry, and by nature, their mental health. 

When hormones are off balance- like in Jenny’s case- it can manifest in unforeseen mental health symptoms. 

A lot of research shows us that thyroid disease can affect mood, and common symptoms include anxiety and depression. 

With overactive thyroid, called hyperthyroidism, mood symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness 
  • Irritability 

With under-active thyroid, called hypothyroidism, mood symptoms may include: 

  • Depression
  • Unusual fatigue

As Jenny learned through lived experience, the systems within which we live; including the systems of our physical bodies, our minds, our families, and the society/culture are all interconnected. 

When one system is off balance, it can shape the way we feel about ourselves, influencing our relationships, work obligations, and overall functioning in everyday life. 

It’s essential to recognize the signs when our body and mind feel off from its ‘normal’ state, to prevent a larger problem, and the side effects we may be unprepared to manage.

Seeking Therapy for Support

Jenny started to work with a therapist a few months before being diagnosed with hypothyroidism.

“My therapist helped me focus on the control I held over my actions and my emotions, rather than trying to control other people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors,” says Jenny.

Jenny’s therapist helped her talk through her feelings of stress about re-entering the workforce after taking care of her baby full-time through the pandemic. 

“I started to recognize where my feelings of stress and anxiety were coming from, and that helped me to determine healthy coping strategies to deal with the stressors at hand,” says Jenny. 

Jenny says that she learned how to communicate more effectively and calmly with her loved one’s, as well as create boundaries for herself.

Above all, Jenny says that she was offered a safe and supportive space to meet herself where she was at, without judgment.

Jenny’s Advice to Others

Reflecting back on her experience, Jenny advises women to take their health seriously, and check to determine if there are any underlying medical issues they may not be aware of, whether through a primary care physician, an OB-Gyn, or both.

“This might mean getting second or third opinions- and getting tested, if it’s offered,” Jenny says. 

And when it comes to coping with mental health symptoms like anxiety and depression- common manifestations of hormonal imbalances, Jenny advocates for therapy. 

“Take time to find a trusted mental health specialist, therapist, or counselor who fits your needs and will work with you to create a game plan for stabilizing the challenges that you’re faced with,” says Jenny.

How Can You Find Help?

Have you recognized the signs that your body is going through big hormonal changes, and as a result, negatively impacting your mental health?

Our trained therapists at HBH Therapy are here to help you develop an integrative and non-invasive treatment plan to alleviate the symptoms showing up in your life. 

You will learn new tools and strengths to reduce stress, and forge new insights into your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors without judgment, resulting in a more positive and satisfying life.

We serve the entire Massachusetts community with our offices in Amherst, Franklin, West Springfield, and Wilbraham Massachusetts. We also offer online teletherapy services to accommodate your schedule and preferences. 

Contact us today at (413) 343-4357 to begin your health journey.

About The Author

Nettie Hoagland Headshot

Nettie Hoagland is a writer with experience in local news reporting, nonprofit communications, and community development. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. Nettie believes in the healing power of the arts to create connection and community. She is passionate about using writing as an instrument for personal and social growth in the field of mental health. She is currently based in Brooklyn, NY.