Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 12/30/2022
Many people with thyroid issues struggle with mental health conditions like depressive disorders and anxiety, so much so that it’s worth exploring whether the relationship between hypothyroidism and anxiety is just a coincidence.
Is hypothyroidism causing anxiety? Is anxiety affecting the function of your thyroid? Will treating one condition make the other go away?
The answers to these questions are messy at best, but we can help you get a better understanding of the relationship between anxiety and thyroid health if you’ll give us a little time.
Let’s start with how thyroid problems might cause mental health conditions.
In addition to regulating the hormones for growth and metabolism, thyroids also have a hand in everything from muscle function and heart health, to digestive processes and energy levels.
And since hypothyroidism is a condition in which a person’s thyroid is less productive than normal, it can cause problems both physical and mental because the thyroid wears many hats, far as job duties are concerned.
Here’s a quick list of the symptoms of hypothyroidism, for context:
Menstrual Cycle Abnormalities
Weight gain and weight loss
Complications in pregnancy
As you can see, a lot of problems can result from thyroid performance issues. But is the thyroid causing them? It’s not always clear.
When it comes to mood, we have more information in the analysis for risk factors to support the cause connection.
Studies show that both an inactive and hyperactive thyroid can affect mental health.
A 2020 review pointed out that the thyroid hormone T3 has been closely linked to depression and anxiety, as well as the regulation and production of serotonin and norepinephrine.
Researchers concluded that yes, hypothyroidism (which is already a stressful situation) increased mental and emotional stress and anxiety symptoms for many people.
But there are some caveats to explain here.
While the study generally found that hypothyroidism increased the risk of anxiety, not every study supported these findings. Some believed the link to be negligible based on their criteria.
Many studies also drew the conclusion that a person’s risk for anxiety, when confronted with hypothyroidism, varies — and that outcomes are potentially due to other attributable risk factors.
In other words, hypothyroidism and anxiety are connected, but there are stronger connections to be considered before judging their relationship, which should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Most experts agree that hypothyroidism can increase your risk of developing an anxiety disorder or panic disorder, but not all of them believe it can cause anxiety disorders to happen outright.
While anxiety seems to have a connection to thyroid problems, we weren’t able to find any research suggesting a connection between anxiety disorders and resulting thyroid disorders.
There doesn’t appear to be any causal relationship between thyroid disorders like hypothyroidism and anxiety disorders.
That is not to say that anxiety can’t exacerbate existing thyroid problems — particularly when it comes to the side effects.
A 2010 review looked at studies of the relationship between pain and mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. What they found was a deep link between the degree of pain you experience and the degree of mental illness severity — the degree of anxiety or depression.
Basically, if you’re experiencing patterns of depressed mood or anxious mood, those mood swings can make pain worse, and the worse your mental illness, the worse the pain gets.
That’s hardly a deep bond when you consider that — by this logic — depression makes toe stubbing more painful.
However, chronic conditions like hypothyroidism can cause chronic discomfort as a result of those side effects we already mentioned, and research is pretty clear that if anxiety and depression are a play as well, they’re going to amplify those effects for you as long as they persist.
Many of the studies and reviews we examined were inconclusive on the question of whether regulating your thyroid could reduce your anxiety (and visa versa). Some people may see relief or reduced symptom severity, but that just hasn’t been proven.
To treat hypothyroidism, your healthcare provider will likely look at thyroid replacement therapy to mimic the normal thyroid function of a normal thyroid gland. These medications can be delivered in a variety of formats, and a healthcare provider can help you select the right one for your needs.
Anxiety treatment is a complicated process when you don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s actually quite simple to understand with the help of a mental healthcare professional — especially if you’re already dealing with problems like a thyroid disorder.
There are three generally agreed upon treatment modalities for anxiety disorders: therapy, drugs and lifestyle changes.
Therapy is designed to help you address the issues going on in your mind, like negative thoughts about yourself and the anxious lines of thinking that prompt you to spiral. Treating this with a psychotherapy form like cognitive behavioral therapy may help you learn how to confront those thoughts and reject them — and protect your stable mind in the process.
Psychiatric disorders — specifically, anxiety disorders — can be treated both on- and off-label with a variety of medications.
Antidepressants and beta-blockers are among the most commonly prescribed medications for anxiety.
Antidepressants help you ward off the psychiatric symptoms and help your brain better regulate neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine, while beta-blockers reduce the physiological symptoms of anxiety like racing heart and sweats.
Different medications can offer relief for different symptoms related to different illnesses and disorders.
Whether you’re taking recreational drugs, smoking or overdoing it on things like caffeine and alcohol, your lifestyle may be making your anxiety symptoms and symptoms of depression worse.
Moderating these habits more carefully can make noticeable changes in your quality of life, as can replacing insomnia with better sleep, a sedentary lifestyle with regular exercise and garbage foods with a healthy diet.
We know — it sounds like a real party.
Hypothyroidism is a serious condition that can affect your quality of life, and it’s something you need to take care of with the help of a health professional.
If you’re also experiencing things like panic attacks, poor concentration, depressive symptoms or other mental health and cognitive issues, your thyroid dysfunction and low thyroid levels may be the cause.
If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression while dealing with thyroid issues, bringing this to the attention of a healthcare professional is essential for your well-being.
Whenever new symptoms or issues — physiological or mental — appear, they need to be factored into your treatment and management plans.
A healthcare provider can help you determine whether your anxiety is related, but more importantly, they can help you determine the best course of action for treatment, which may include one or more of the mental health treatments we mentioned — or something completely different.
Whether your thyroid is at fault or just a factor, addressing your anxiety is important for your quality of life. Period.