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Hormones, And Depression in Women | Depression Effects on Women

What Are the Symptoms of Depression in Women?

How depression affects women

Depression isn’t just a brief period where you feel sad or down about something. It’s a serious mood disorder that can affect your daily life.

 And it isn’t always easy to recognize or treat. You may not even realize that you’re dealing with depression until you’ve experienced symptoms for an extended period of time.

Although it can happen to anyone, women experience depression at nearly twice the rate that men do. 

Women also tend to experience depression differently than their male counterparts.

Some of the most common symptoms of female depression include:

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not enjoying the same hobbies or interests that you once did, or not getting the same amount of pleasure from these activities, not being able to focus for very long
losing your appetite regularly, losing an abnormal amount of weight at one time, feeling weak or exhausted with no clear cause.

feeling overwhelmingly guilty, feeling like you’re not worth anything or are inadequate
feeling anxious or irritable, losing feelings of hope for the future, crying without any specific cause.

not being able to sleep well at night, having dramatic mood swings,having thoughts about death.

What’s the difference between male and female depression?
Men and women tend to experience different symptoms of depression. Some of these differences result from the hormonal differences between men and women.

Women experience dramatic hormonal changes during:

menstruation
pregnancy
childbirth
menopause
Other differences can be caused by different social norms for men and women. In places like the United States, men are expected to be tough and not always share how they’re feeling. Women, on the other hand, are often expected to be more openly emotional.

This tendency can cause both men and women to express their feelings of depression differently based on what they believe is socially acceptable for them to do or say.

To express their feelings, men may:

show anger
blame the people around them
pick fights
turn to destructive habits like drinking

Causes and risk factors for depression
There’s no single cause of depression. Brain chemistry, hormones, and genetics may all play a role. Other risk factors for depression include:

low self-esteem
anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder
physical or sexual abuse
chronic diseases like diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or cancer
alcohol or drug use disorders
certain prescription medications
family history of depression
age, gender, race, and geography
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Women are twice as likely to suffer from depression as men of the same age, with about one in four women experiencing symptoms at some point during her lifetime.

 Although different factors must be considered such as societal expectations of women at home and at work and the stress involved the fact that women are most vulnerable during the childbearing years points to the role of reproductive hormones in triggering depression.

“It is interesting to note that before adolescence, rates of depression are about the same among girls and boys,” explains Rita Nonacs, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Director of the Center for Women’s Health at Massachusetts General Hospital in her book A Deeper Shade of Blue.

 “Things begin to shift between eleven and thirteen.” By the time girls are 15, they are twice as likely to suffer from depression as males, and their risk for depression remains higher throughout their entire adult lives. However, “at no other point are women more vulnerable to depression than during their childbearing years,” writes Dr. Nonacs.

In puberty, there is a dramatic rise in estrogen and progesterone, which are responsible for breast development and other physical changes in girls. These hormones have significant effects on the brain, as well.

 For example, estrogen inhibits cortisol, a stress hormone that activates the “fight-or-flight” response, and stimulates the neurotransmitter serotonin, which regulates mood and decreases anxiety. 

Progesterone has been shown to have a calming effect and can mitigate panic symptoms, however, some people find that it counteracts the positive effects of estrogen.

“Throughout her reproductive years, not only is a woman exposed to different types of hormones and different levels of these hormones than a man, she experiences constant hormonal fluctuation,” writes Dr. Nonacs. 

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It’s this yo-yo effect of hormones that wreaks havoc on many women, especially those vulnerable to depression and anxiety.

Typically, women feel better during the first half of their menstrual cycle, the follicular phase, when the egg follicles in the ovary grow and the levels of estrogen and progesterone are on the rise. 

Ovulation takes place somewhere around day 12 to 14. If the egg is not fertilized, estrogen and progesterone levels drop the last two weeks of the cycle, called the luteal phase. It is anywhere in these two weeks that women experience premenstrual syndrome.

 As a women gets closer to menopause, her symptoms of premenstrual syndrome may become more profound.

About three to five percent of menstruating women have premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), exhibiting significant mood changes or changes in behavior the last two weeks of their menstrual cycle, causing problems at home and at work. 

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“It is clear that many women suffer from depression throughout their cycle and notice worsening of their symptoms during the last one or two weeks,” explains Dr. Nonacs. “Experts believe these hormonal shifts may act as a trigger for depression in some women and that women who have premenstrual mood changes may also be more vulnerable to depression at other times when exposed to significant hormonal fluctuations, such as after childbirth or during transition to menopause.”

Perimenopause and Depression, Two studies published in the Archives of General Psychiatry demonstrate that women entering perimenopause are at an increased risk for depression, even if they have never suffered from depression before.

The first study at the University of Pennsylvania followed 231 women, aged 35 to 47, for eight years. During the course of the study, 43 percent became perimenopausal. 

The women who entered perimenopause were four times more likely to report depressive symptoms during perimenopause than before and two times more likely to develop clinical depression.

 According to the study, fluctuations and changes in reproductive hormone levels, especially estrogen, are predictors of depressed moods.

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The second study by researchers with the Harvard Study of Mood and Cycles evaluated 460 women, aged 36-45, none of whom had suffered from depression before, over a period of six years. During that time, 70 percent entered perimenopause. 

These women were approximately twice as likely to become clinically depressed, independent of other risk factors for depression, such as divorce or a death in the family.

Overcoming Depressive Symptoms Related to Hormonal Dysfunction When hormonal imbalances are behind your feelings of sadness and loss of energy, antidepressants won’t get your mind right. 

But if no one ever tests your hormone levels, you will never know that hormonal dysfunction could be contributing to your depressive symptoms.

 This could leave you going from one antidepressant medication to another in search of relief without success.

Depression in Teenage Girls
As with adults, teenage girls are more likely to experience depression than boys. And the symptoms can be different, too, as compared to adults and boys.

 It is important for parents to be aware of signs of depression in teens, so they can intervene if necessary:

Mood changes, which may include sadness and irritability
Withdrawal from family and friends
A drop in academic performance
Changes in behavior, like sleeping, eating, and energy levels
A lack of interest in things once enjoyed, like school, friends, clubs, or sports
Excessive anxiety
Self-harm, like cutting
Eating disorders
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

This type of depression usually begins seven to 10 days before a woman’s period and can persist for several days. 

Treatment with antidepressants may help relieve PMDD symptoms. In addition to the symptoms of major depression, this condition can cause:

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Anxiety
Tension
Extreme emotional sensitivity
Mood swings
Irritability and anger
Feelings of being overwhelmed or not in control
Physical symptoms of PMS that may be more severe, including cramps, breast tenderness, headaches, and bloating
Perinatal and Postpartum Depression
Depression during pregnancy is called perinatal depression, and after giving birth is called postpartum depression. Women experience a lot of hormonal changes during and after pregnancy, and it is not unusual to feel a little bit depressed. Persistent and severe depression, however, is not normal and may be diagnosed as one of these conditions. Symptoms include the typical signs of depression, but a woman may also experience:

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Difficulty bonding or finding a connection with her baby
Severe mood swings, including intense irritability or anger
Uncontrollable and unpredictable crying
Feeling guilty, ashamed, and like a bad mother
Panic attacks
Disturbing thoughts of harming herself or her baby
The last symptom is unusual and very serious. In rare cases, a woman with postpartum depression may experience psychosis, which may cause delusions, hallucinations, confusion, obsessive thoughts, and paranoid thoughts. It may also cause a mother to have terrible thoughts about causing harm to herself or her baby. These symptoms should be taken very seriously and need to be treated as an emergency medical situation.

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Perimenopausal Depression
Another time in a woman’s life when hormones are changing is during the transition to menopause.

 This is called perimenopause, and it can cause a variety of physical and mood symptoms. It can be challenging and uncomfortable to go through this process, but depression is not normal.

 Any symptoms of major depression, such as a low mood, loss of interest in activities, irritability, difficulty sleeping, and anxiety, should be addressed.

Experiencing perimenopausal depression may seem to many women like a natural part of the process. 

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This may be explained by the fact that most of the women who have depressive symptoms at this time in their lives never struggled with depression previously. 

One study found that one out of six women going through perimenopause who had never had depression developed depressive symptoms. 

It is important to realize that perimenopausal depression is a mental health issue that can be managed with treatment.

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