While the constant battle for gender equality continues, there is a particular subject that seems to fuel this discrimination. Anxiety is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences, however anxiety disorders are a serious mental illness that is more prevalent among women. The anxiety gender gap puts women as twice as likely to develop the disorder than men; and while it’s easy to say that it’s because women are more inclined to nervousness or thoughts of fear, there is a lot more to this idea that its surface value.
3 Facts about Women and Anxiety
- Women are twice as likely to develop Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, Specific Phobia, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Major Depressive Disorder as men.
- Most women may fail to seek help for their anxiety as they view it as ‘normal’.
- Women who do seek help are often misdiagnosed for other mental disorders.
Estrogen is a steroid hormone that is important for female sexual and reproductive development. It also plays a hand in influencing brain function by interacting with serotonin to modulate mood levels. While in general, women produce more estrogen than men they also experience extreme fluctuations in their hormone levels – as evidenced in sudden mood swings during critical times of the month. These constant fluctuations can cause an imbalance in serotonin levels which in turn can heighten feelings of fear, stress and anxiety.
5 to 16% of women struggle with anxiety during pregnancy and postpartum. This alarming number has only recently been acknowledged, leaving a lot of this territory to be unknown to researchers and experts. Anxiety during pregnancy can likely be linked to the sudden imbalance in hormones, the stressors your body is experiencing and the combination of concerns and worries any expecting mother might have. Anxiety can hold various risks for both the mother and baby, so should be addressed as soon as possible to avoid complications.
During menopause, egg production is halted in the ovaries and the body produces less estrogen and progesterone. This deficiency in estrogen presents a strong risk of increasing the likelihood of anxiety and mood disorders. Estrogen plays a role in regulating the serotonin pathway, the lack of estrogen can cause a disconnect in serotonin transmission and produces or exacerbates anxiety disorders in women.
Women who take birth control have been observed to functional in a biologically similar manner to women with low estrogen. Essentially, birth control contributes to the impairment of a woman’s ability to control or handle their fears due to a lack of estrogen availability.
Cultural thought and values have taken a shift in the last 70 years that has put a lot of strain on the expectations and values of women. These days value is put towards money and status and for women, they are expected to uphold a perfect family, with a big-titled job all while maintaining a perfect physique and a big bank account. With expectations such as these that are so hard to live up to due to external and internal factors, it’s no surprise that anxiety hits closer to home for women who have to uphold these standards with very little reward or satisfaction. Combine these expectations with ongoing discrimination and sexism that is alive and well today and you have the perfect recipe for anxiety.
Anxiety Symptoms for Women
In women experiencing generalized anxiety disorder, persistent worry or anxiety that lasts for at least several months is present. This worry or feeling of anxiety is excessive, troubling and hard to control, and can interfere with your daily chores, at work and at home. The most common symptoms of anxiety are: irrational fear, headache, pain in the chest, elevated heart rate, insomnia and nausea, shortness of breath, jumpiness and irritability, hot flashes, depression. Some of these symptoms women experience during their PMS, however, if they are persistent, and you feel that you are losing control over them you should consult with your doctor.
When it comes to treating anxiety, the treatment for both men and women is the same. The treatment of anxiety usually consists of psychological therapy, usually cognitive behavioral therapy, and pharmacological treatment – usually used less frequently for the symptoms of anxiety. The safety of anti-anxiety medications has not been demonstrated in pregnant women, and it is not recommended to take them during pregnancy as they may lead to pre-term delivery, may pose risk of birth defects, and more.
Activities such as behavioral therapy is a safe alternative in pregnant women, alongside healthy food choices, practicing yoga and meditation and similar activates which have been proven beneficial in women with anxiety.