Your mental health is important to your general wellbeing, affecting every day of your life. It makes a difference to your way of thinking, your quality of life and can impact both work and rest - so getting it right is important. You may have heard that contraception can affect your mental health - but is there any truth in it?
If you’re looking to start a new method of contraception, there are lots of options to choose from. One of the things you’ll likely take into consideration is what side effects you might experience - including those affecting your mental health. Different types of contraception have different side effects, and although many of them are mild, some can be more severe.
Can the pill cause anxiety?
It can be difficult to pinpoint the cause of mood swings. While contraception could potentially be a cause of low mood, it could also be caused by other minor stresses that have built up to make a big impact. Stress at work, relationship problems and anxiety about the future could all be possible factors.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that some people have mood swings or anxiety while taking the contraceptive pill. However, although scientists are working to improve our understanding of mental health, research linking anxiety and mood swings to the pill is limited. Because of this, it’s hard to prove one way or the other.
One study conducted in Norway in 2012 suggests that the type of pill you take matters, with the progesterone-only pill (POP) having more of an effect on mood than the combined pill. The study looked at nearly 500 women between the ages of 20 and 50.
Another study, this time from Germany in 2019, implies that contraceptives have a greater negative effect on mood in individuals who already have mood-related mental health issues. Yet another study, from 2002, was unable to decide either way, but found that the majority of women involved in the study experienced positive mood changes rather than negative.
The inconsistency in research around mood changes and the contraceptive pill means that we can’t be sure whether or not taking the pill can cause anxiety or depression.
Why might the pill cause anxiety?
If we can’t be sure whether or not the pill does cause anxiety, you might think we have no idea how it could change your mood. Of course, we don’t know for certain, but there are a few interesting theories to take into consideration.
One such theory is that taking the contraceptive pill affects the balance of hormones in your body and therefore affects the levels of neurotransmitters in your brain. If your levels of oestrogen and progesterone fall, you may experience feelings of anxiety and irritability. Depression, mood swings and anxiety may be symptoms of hormone imbalance.
However, hormone imbalance isn’t necessarily caused by taking the pill. Your body produces lots of different hormones which have various functions within the body. For example, an underactive thyroid gland - which makes hormones that regulate the metabolism - can cause depression symptoms, while an overactive thyroid gland can cause mood swings and anxiety.
One study suggests that any effect the pill has on mental health is not caused by hormonal imbalances but psychology instead. The results imply that the act of preventing pregnancy causes unconscious feelings of anxiety, almost like an evolved response developed to encourage our ancestors to have lots of babies.
The research surrounding the pill and its effects on mental health isn’t strong enough to prove or disprove either of these theories. Fortunately, not knowing the cause of mood changes doesn’t always mean they can’t be managed - and there are several ways you can ease feelings of depression and anxiety while using contraceptives.
Dealing with anxiety when on birth control
Regardless of the cause of your anxiety or mood swings, changing a few small things about your lifestyle can help ease negative feelings and make them more manageable. Some techniques can help you calm down anxiety hits, others help to boost your levels of ‘happy’ chemicals, and others help to maintain your overall health so your mood doesn’t become worse.
When it comes to calming down, there are lots of soothing activities you can try. Some people find meditation works for them, while others prefer stretching and yoga. Performing simple repetitive tasks such as folding laundry or colouring in a picture could help you to ‘slow down’ and reduce feelings of being rushed or overwhelmed.
Improving your mood could take the form of exercise, whether that means walking, running, lifting weights or playing a sport. Exercising with friends or family can be particularly effective as you get social interaction with people you care about at the same time. You could also indulge in a hobby or a favourite meal - but remember to do these things in moderation.
Also, things that often get forgotten when it comes to looking after mental health are the things we should be doing every day. Getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water and eating a healthy balanced diet can give you a solid baseline to start with. Think of it as a pyramid - if your basic needs aren’t being met, everything else will be affected.
Finally, talking therapies such as counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy can help with managing various mental health problems - anxiety and depression included. If you feel like other techniques aren’t working, try talking to your GP, they should be able to point you in the right direction to get professional help to manage your mental health.
Finding out what side effects you might experience when taking your contraceptive pill is simple. For example, you can learn more about Lovima®’s desogestrel pill online, or speak to your pharmacist to discuss your options. Potential side effects should also be listed in your contraceptive pill’s patient information leaflet.