Can stopping birth control cause anxiety?

If you’ve ever taken a new medication, you’re familiar with the litany of potential side effects that come with it. Nausea, headaches, drowsiness – these are all pretty standard fare. However, those who have recently stopped taking birth control may find that they’re experiencing a different set of symptoms entirely: anxiety.

For those who have never been on birth control or haven’t gone off it before, this might seem strange – how could unbalancing your hormones lead to feelings of unease? Today we’ll be exploring the link between stopping birth control and anxiety.

What is Birth Control and How Does It Work?

Before we dive into the connection between birth control and anxiety, let’s take a step back and go over what exactly “birth control” means.

Birth control refers to any method used to prevent pregnancy, whether medically through hormone manipulation like in oral contraceptives or barrier methods such as condoms. Hormonal contraception works by preventing ovulation while also making cervical mucus thicker in order to make it more difficult for sperm to travel through the cervix.^1

The Link Between Estrogen & Anxiety

So how does this connect with feeling anxious when going off hormonal contraceptives? Simply put: estrogen.

To paint an accurate picture though – because nothing is ever simple – there has actually been quite a bit of debate around just how much hormonal contraceptive affects mood swings versus normal fluctuations throughout the menstrual cycle^2.

However many experts believe that estrogen can play an important role in regulating our moods due to its influence on serotonin levels^3 . Serotonin is one biological chemical responsible for maintaining emotional stability in humans; women tend naturally produce less serotonin than men^(4).

When overall lower levels of natural estrogen are modified from being consistent while taking hormonal contraception – especially abruptly changing– this disruption can affect mood since receptors custom to higher concentrations now require more to achieve normal chemical equilibrium^5. This destabilized state can trigger feelings of anxiety in some women.

The Birth Control Blues

Anxiety isn’t the only feeling that those who stop taking birth control might experience. Many women also report experiencing depression, mood swings, or other shifts in their overall mental wellbeing (collectively this is called Post-Contraceptive Syndrome)^6

As you’ve likely already inferred from the name itself; post-contraceptive syndrome is a condition caused by going off hormonal contraception^(7) . Symptoms generally include:

  • Anxiety
  • Mood changes
  • Headaches
  • Irregular Periods
  • Insomnia and sleep disturbances
  • Acne and skin issues³

This litany of side effects from coming off hormonal contraception may be related to our body’s attempt to regulate its own levels of hormones again – as well as potentially adjusted appetite/weight gain perceived body image concerns^8.

Why You Might Be Feeling Anxious After Going Off Birth Control

So now that we know what’s happening chemically when we’re on hormonal contraceptives and how they affect serotonin levels let’s talk about why this matters for anxiety specifically.

As previously mentioned: estrogen has been shown experimentally to have anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) effects due to actions at both 5-HT₁A receptors and GABAα receptors² – which are part of different biological signalling pathways involved with switching ‘off’ neurons stimulating the CNS (central nervous system).

Because it takes time after stopping birth control for your natural hormone production process similarly fluctuating over weeks/months it leaves us fluctuating creating waves unsettling neurotransmitter/fluctuations similar tox withdrawal symptoms; leading some into the uncertainty repeatedly questioning, “Why do I feel so overwhelmed?”

So if you were relying on oral contraceptives, patches or any medicine providing estrogen/progesterone – these chemical signals that regulated your hormones, helped balance you for some time now suddenly gone (or diminishing) taking in rough ’emotional waves’ after leading to a sense of discomfort – symptoms such as sweating and shaking hands while riding the elevator at work seem inexplicable. Again this speaks to 5-HT₁A receptors’ role but with underlying anxieties from suddenly unexplainable emotions^9.

The Process

It might not surprise you that some women may take several months before their body stabilizes their hormone secretions again when switching off birth control^(10). As they do come back online what we noted earlier about abrupt modification isn’t experienced again since it is more gradual, having been subjected too long-term changes by synthetic estrogens and progesterones^(11).

That said it can be difficult to wait out the initial weeks or even full month transition. Hormonal contraception becoming so mainstream & “normal” has created somewhat of an unexpected expectation-quit-lag trend between discontinuing said treatment and seeing our bodies return to levels sustainable pre-treatment without any unwelcomed side effects.

On the bright side or perhaps light at end of tunnel: using better wellness practices can accelerate the process/expedite adaptation^^8 – worth exploring brain-centric specific exercises/applications further on down!

Coping With Anxiety After Stopping Birth Control?

What are some ways someone could successfully cope with anxiety stemming from quitting hormonal contraception?

  1. Mindfulness practice / Micro-meditation sessions
  2. Simplifying sleep routine; focusing strategies on destressing/relaxation
  3. Maintaining cardio exercise program
  4. Nutrient-dense diet (reducing processed carbs/sugars possibly)
  5. Consider investing into supplements (such as melatonin/sleep support vitamins)

None of these points listed require significant overhaul/addition towards weekly routines; instead involve rethinking daily suggestions.. However, what it often hinders for those seeking immediate control: time^12.

Adapting to a new routine (or more accurately- habituating an older accepted one) takes steps towards implementing/making noticeable change overtime through building it into daily work flow gradually; take solace in attempted efforts even if its just 10-minutes worth of mindfulness or as simple as sleep capsule before bed.

Final Thoughts:

If you’re experiencing anxiety after coming off birth control, know that you are not alone – this is a fairly common side effect! Additionally, many women find they feel much better after making these adjustments and regaining independence over how their body feels emotionally & physically!

While managing some sense of uncertainty can be distracting consider taking the options above to investigate quickly discovering practices helpful/regenerating ultimately allowing us more peaceful/equivalent state along with overall empowerment^(13).

After all there’s no way we can keep calling “mood swings” withdrawals now!

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