Anxiety Symptoms In Women: Combatting Them With Confidence
Based on global statistics, anxiety disorders may be some of the most common mental illnesses, potentially affecting 40 million U.S. adults (19.1% of the U.S. population) every year. These disorders can impact anyone, regardless of age, race, or gender identity. However, research indicates that anxiety disorders can affect women in unique ways. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), women may be nearly twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. Women and others with anxiety may find it beneficial to lean on their support systems, prioritize time for themselves, practice deep breathing exercises, and work with a licensed therapist. An easy way to connect with a mental health professional may be to join an online therapy platform.
Types of anxiety disorders
While anxiety may affect more women on average, anyone can experience anxiety. For some people, anxiety can be a passing emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and even physical changes, like increased blood pressure.
From time to time, most people tend to experience anxiety in response to a stressful event or major life decision. But when anxiety becomes persistent, recurring, and affects your ability to engage in everyday life, a medical professional may diagnose you with an anxiety disorder.
As defined by the American Psychological Association (APA), the most common anxiety diagnoses typically include the following:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), generally defined by excessive anxiety regarding a range of daily concerns for at least six months. Women may be twice as likely to experience GAD compared to men.
- Panic disorder (PD), normally characterized by recurrent and unexpected panic attacks. Women may be twice as likely to experience PD compared to men.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), usually characterized by recurrent intrusive thoughts (obsessions) that often prompt “neutralizing” rituals or routines (compulsions). Women may be three times more likely to experience OCD than men.
- Specific phobias, which can be defined as marked and persistent fears of a specific object, activity, or situation. Women may be twice as likely to experience specific phobias compared to men.
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can develop after exposure to trauma. PTSD is usually defined by painful flashbacks, recollections, and avoidance of activities and places associated with the traumatic event. Compared to men, women may be five times more likely to be affected by PTSD.
If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.
While these may represent some of the most common anxiety disorders, other anxiety-related diagnoses can include social anxiety disorder (SAD), agoraphobia, and separation anxiety disorder.
Each disorder typically presents a unique set of symptoms and treatment options, but these diagnoses generally have the common element of anxiety or the anticipation of a future concern that can lead to a host of uncomfortable symptoms.
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
If you’re living with anxiety, your symptoms can vary depending on several factors, including your hormones, lifestyle, general mental health, and the specific type of anxiety disorder.
- Extreme worry and tension, even without a specific cause for worry or concern
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleeping problems
- Panic attacks (most common in people with PD)
- Heart palpitations and chest pain
People with specific phobias tend to express specific anxieties around an object or situation. For example, spiders, heights, or getting shots at the doctor’s office may set off anxiety symptoms. Similarly, people with agoraphobia are usually anxious about enclosed spaces and other situations that may limit their ability to escape or get help.
Anxiety in women: The science and statistics
According to the ADAA, women may be nearly twice as likely as men to develop an anxiety disorder from the onset of puberty to age 50.
More research may be needed to understand the reasons behind these numbers, as well as the prevalence of anxiety among nonbinary and transgender people. That said, many researchers believe a combination of environmental and biological factors may heighten the risk of anxiety in women.
Biologically, women tend to experience dramatic changes in estrogen levels during their menstrual cycles and reproductive years. As a sex hormone, estrogen usually helps manage the menstrual cycle and other reproductive functions, and research suggests it may also play a role in anxiety- and trauma-related disorders.
Of course, anxiety may not be a simple matter of hormones. Particularly among women, lifestyle expectations and cultural factors may also take their toll. In many cultures, women tend to take on caregiver roles. Compared to their partners, women often assume the responsibilities of raising or educating children, completing chores and errands, and balancing other daily tasks.
These demands generally amplified during the pandemic, potentially leaving many women feeling more anxious and overwhelmed. Researchers are still studying the enduring impacts of the pandemic and other stressors, as well as the effects of historic social roles, on women’s anxiety levels.
Strategies for women: How to combat your anxiety symptoms
Regardless of your symptoms, there may be science-backed strategies to reduce your anxiety. With the support of loved ones and mental health professionals, women and others with anxiety can navigate their stressors with confidence, clarity, and self-awareness.
1. Tap into your support system
Chances may be high that other women in your life have also experienced some variation of anxiety. By opening up with friends and loved ones about your experiences, you can create a space for more vulnerable and honest discussions about mental health. Over time, these discussions can bring you closer to other people, broaden your support system, and chip away at the stigma surrounding anxiety.
If the prospect of building your support network seems daunting, you might consider joining a formal support group for women with anxiety or other mental health concerns. Today, many of these groups take place online. if you’re looking for suggestions, the ADAA offers a list of both virtual and in-person groups for women seeking support, solidarity, and friendship.
2. Practice deep breathing exercises
Regardless of your gender identity, age, or experience with mindfulness, deep breathing exercises can be accessible tools for many people. We may all have the ability to pause, notice our breathing, and use one of the body’s mechanisms to calm the mind.
There can be several kinds of breathing exercises, but some of the most popular techniques may include:
- Abdominal breathing (also called “natural breathing”), which usually focuses on breathing from the belly instead of taking shallow, rapid breaths from the chest, which tends to happen when we’re anxious
- Countdown to Calm, which normally involves counting down and repeating soothing mantras while taking deep breaths
- Body scans, which tend to focus on the connection between your breath and various parts of your body
You can quickly use some of these techniques throughout the day, perhaps during work, school, or your morning commute. Others can become part of your morning or evening ritual. A longer body scan at night, for example, can help you calm down and reconnect to your breath after a long, stressful day.
3. Prioritize time for yourself
Whether you’re a parent, a busy professional, a partner, or all of the above, it’s often easy to pile on the obligations and realize you have no time left for yourself. But just like you’d schedule an appointment for your child or a meeting with a co-worker, you can also add self-care time to the calendar.
Even 10 minutes can be enough time to reset with a favorite activity. During those 10 minutes, you might enjoy a cup of coffee, read a few pages of a book, or use some gentle stretching to relieve physical and emotional tension. Creating time for yourself doesn’t have to be seen as selfish. Instead, it can help you refill your metaphorical cup, so that you have the energy to show up as your best self in all areas of life.
4. Find your personal definition of health
For any woman experiencing anxiety, maintaining a healthy lifestyle might seem like an obvious recommendation. But it can be important to recognize that your personal definition of “health” may differ from that of a friend or loved one. Throughout their lives, many women face the pressures of diet culture, social media, “clean” eating, and other fads that are often more harmful than healthy.
To challenge these cultural trends, many women choose to redefine their personal definitions of health in pursuit of a more balanced lifestyle. This can look like:
- Doing activities you truly enjoy and setting boundaries to avoid activities that drain you
- Spending more time in nature
- Getting plenty of high-quality sleep
- Prioritizing whole foods and sufficient hydration
- Actively investing in friendships by scheduling meetups, coffee dates, or other social events
It can take plenty of time and reflection to break free of cultural expectations, but for many women, a healthy relationship with food, friends, body image, and exercise can be well worth the effort.
5. Connect with a therapist
For many women and people in general, working with a therapist can offer the extra boost of confidence they need to manage their anxiety and create the lives they envision. While some women may prefer face-to-face support, online therapy can be a popular option for those who lack the time or finances for traditional, in-person therapy. Online therapy platforms frequently make it easy for patients to connect with licensed therapists, many of whom have years of experience supporting women with anxiety.
Within the past few years, several studies have documented the many potential benefits of online therapy for people with anxiety disorders, including a 2021 study of an online, therapist-guided discussion board and support group for postpartum mothers. Over half of the participants had been diagnosed with depression or anxiety during their lifetimes, and after the treatment, most mothers’ depression symptoms improved significantly. The researchers noted that online therapy could make mental health care more accessible to new mothers, as well as other women with demanding and unpredictable schedules.
What are the signs of anxiety in a woman?
Some common signs of anxiety in a person can include:
- Feeling nervous, irritable or on edge
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- Having an increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation), sweating, and/or trembling
- Feeling weak or tired
- Difficulty concentrating
- Having trouble sleeping
- Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
What triggers anxiety in women?
Anxiety can be triggered by a variety of things. Past or current trauma, life changes like starting a new job or moving, genetics, puberty, lifestyle changes (like eating poorly or not exercising regularly), and neurochemical levels can all influence the presence of anxiety and to what degree one may experience anxiety symptoms. In women, estrogen can have a significant influence on the brain, and as such regular daily and monthly fluctuations in this hormone can have an impact on anxiety.
What is the biggest cause of anxiety?
There is no single cause of anxiety. The presence of anxiety is influenced by many factors, including genetics and family history, life experiences like traumatic events, existing mental illness or mental health disorders, hormone activity in the body and brain, neurochemical levels, stress, your upbringing, life changes, and lifestyle habits (diet, substance misuse, exercise, dehydration, sleep hygiene, etc. all influence mental health). Every individual’s experience with anxiety and what may cause it is different.
What makes anxiety worse?
Anxiety and its symptoms may be worsened by things such as:
- A family history of anxiety
- Trauma and PTSD
- Hormonal fluctuations
- Consuming too much caffeine
- Alcohol consumption
- Drug use
- Life changes like starting a new job or moving to a new city
- Poor diet (get plenty of fruits, veggies, and whole grains!)
- A stressful or toxic environment
- Too much screentime
- Other preexisting conditions, such as depression or premenstrual dysphoric disorder
How do you treat anxiety in women?
Anxiety in women is treated much the same as anxiety in anyone else. Therapy, lifestyle changes, alternative medicine, prescription medicine, exercise, mindfulness techniques, adequate diet, or some combination thereof are often utilized to treat anxiety.
How to calm down anxiety?
Some tried and true, science-backed approaches to calming anxiety include:
- Slow, deep breathing exercises like box breathing
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Meditation or mindfulness exercises like the five senses technique
- Sometimes, drinking water or having a healthy snack can help
- Talking or spending time with a trusted loved one
- Exercise like swimming, walking, yoga, weightlifting, or running that encourages you to be in the present moment and helps expel anxious energy
- Doing things you enjoy, like painting, reading, or listening to music
What does anxiety feel like physically?
Physically, anxiety symptoms impact the nervous, cardiovascular, digestive, immune, and respiratory symptoms. Anxiety can feel like a racing heart, being tired yet sleepless, headaches, indigestion, heartburn, lightheadedness, high blood pressure, increased sweating, loss of libido, and even chest pains.
Who suffers from anxiety the most?
Anxiety affects approximately 40 million Americans yearly. Studies indicate that women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, with 14.3% of men being diagnosed in the past year compared to 23.4% of women. Adolescents, who are undergoing significant mental and physical changes throughout puberty, are also more likely than adults to develop anxiety disorders and other mental disorders such as depression.
What happens to your body when you have anxiety?
Anxiety, particularly chronic anxiety, can affect the body in various ways. In particular, the nervous, cardiovascular, digestive, immune, and respiratory systems can be impacted by recurring anxiety. You may experience heightened senses (sensitivity to touch, sounds, and light can occur), rapid heart rate and increased blood pressure as your body prepares for “fight, flight, or freeze,” body aches including headaches and muscle aches, dizziness, fatigue, and more.
Can anxiety cause unpleasant body sensations?
Anxiety, whether occasional or a recognized disorder such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or other anxiety disorders can result in a variety of mental and physical symptoms. Among physical symptoms, trouble sleeping, experiencing gastrointestinal discomfort, arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat, lightheadedness or dizziness, chest pain, fatigue, high blood pressure, increased or decreased sensitivity to things like touch and sounds, headache, sweating, and more can be common. Some of these may feel distressing, particularly when experienced on top of anxiety. For those with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), physical symptoms may commonly be experienced when past trauma is remembered or triggered in some way.
It’s important to consult with a doctor or mental health professional if you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or another mental health condition that impedes your health and daily functioning.
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