Anxiety is a common disorder - an estimated 31.1% of U.S. adults experience anxiety at some time in their lives. In our previous post, we defined Anxiety Disorders as “6 months or more of chronic, exaggerated worry and tension that is unfounded, or much more severe than the normal, everyday worry most people experience”. This can manifest in symptoms such as feeling restless, irritable, or on edge’, having a hard time concentrating, feeling tired all the time, and experiencing headaches stomaches, or other muscle aches.
Women Are Diagnosed With Anxiety Disorders At 2X The Rate Of Men
Multiple studies have found that women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder — and this holds true for adult women as well as girls under 18. In addition, women diagnosed with one type of Anxiety Disorder are more likely than men to be diagnosed with an additional Anxiety Disorder.
Researchers have also found differences in the way women experience anxiety:
Women report more body-based symptoms - specifically, women who have panic attacks report more shortness of breath and faintness.
Panic Disorder, a type of Anxiety Disorder, appears to be more chronic in women.
Women report a greater number of worries and more separation anxiety than men.
Women tend to deal with their anxiety by avoidance, while men more often turn to substance abuse.
Multiple Theories As To Why Women Are Diagnosed More Than Men
Some researchers theorize that women’s monthly cycle can affect anxiety levels, or that female hormones may contribute to a more quickly activated, longer-acting fight-or-flight response, or that the hormone testosterone — more abundant in males — may help ease anxiety symptoms for men. Other studies revealed women are more likely to experience physical and mental abuse (as children and as adults) than men, and abuse is commonly linked to the development of anxiety disorders.
Digging Deeper Into The Anxiety Gender Gap
However, one of the biggest differences researchers found is that women are more likely than men to seek help when they experience symptoms of anxiety, and therefore get diagnosed. So the question becomes: are women actually experiencing anxiety more often, or are they more likely to discuss their symptoms with a health professional than men ? In other words, is there a societal influence on the levels of Anxiety Disorder diagnoses between genders?
In his book, Invisible Men: Men's Inner Lives and the Consequences of Silence, author and professor of psychology at Clark University, Michael Addis postulates that "when men struggle with fear, and depression, it can tend to come out more as anger and aggression. And men in our culture are more encouraged to use, let's say, strategies such as substance use... to suppress those emotions...They are more encouraged to talk to their friend and to bottle it up, and to perhaps kind of withdraw and become passive” rather than reporting symptoms to a medical professional.
In fact, a recent study looked at whether male leaders within organizations are penalized by asking for help, and found that in fact, sometimes men “may face backlash when they don’t adhere to masculine gender stereotypes — when they show vulnerability, act nicer, display empathy, or express sadness.” Unfortunately, this may play out by by impeding mens access to treatment, and therefore their overall mental health.
Ultimately, whether in men or women, early recognition of anxiety symptoms is important so that treatment can start. A combination of cognitive behavioral therapy, medication and lifestyle changes (more physical activity, improved eating and sleeping habits) has been shown to be effective in reducing most symptoms of anxiety.
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National Center for Biotechnology Information - National Institutes of Health: Gender Differences in Anxiety Disorders: Prevalence, Course of Illness, Comorbidity and Burden of Illness
Journal of Brain and Behavior: A systematic review of reviews on the prevalence of anxiety disorders in adult populations
NPR: Understanding How Anxiety Might Be Different For Men